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Interview: Bilbao Black Cats are go!

Sunderland’s newest supporters branch is growing fast - and at Watford they had their first match day gathering

The inauguration of the Bilbao Black Cats

Getting supporters from one branch from another part of the UK together in one place for a match can be fraught with logistical problems.

There’s getting tickets for everyone, getting transport sorted and making sure everyone gets there in one piece.

Yet for one of Sunderland AFC’s newest branches, they cannot simply hop on a bus or train to get to a match - home or away.

However regardless of the distance, they had their first official meetup since the creation of their branch.

This is the story of how the Bilbao Black Cats made the trip over from sunny Spain to take in the 2-2 draw at Watford, and a little bit on six of the members and how they came to join the branch.

What’s your name, where are you from?

“My name’s Mark and I was born away from Sunderland even though the rest of the family were born there. My gran served tea at half time at Roker Park and started going from 1988 and try to go when I can.

“My name’s Àngel Llamosas, I’m from Bilbao (Basque Country).

“Hi, we’re Andoni, Iker, Adrián and Julen. We’re from Durango, a small town near Bilbao.

“Hullo! I’m Chris... born in Swansea, Mam from Ashington and Dad a Londoner. Got taken to Roker in 1987 by my mate Phil’s dad Steven...and never looked back, standing on those wooden boxes.”

How did you get in with the branch?

Mark: “I read the article in Roker Report and thought it was a great idea. I’ve lived over here for 18 years and it’s great to share a common passion.

Angel: “A friend from my son’s school, Lee, English and a massive fan of Sunderland, told me about the idea of being part of the supporters branch of Sunderland in Bilbao and I didn’t hesitate at all.”

Chris: “Me and Jonny share an ability to keep barbeques alight and kayaks afloat, along the Bizkaian coast.

“Met him first at a Champions League Final and we started singing the Lambton Worm together. Great lad, me mam loves his accent, and he introduced me to Lee and their families.”

Julen: “We met Jonny and Lee on the plane when we were going to Wembley. We started talking and they told us about the plans they had to start a supporters branch so we signed up for it.

“The reason I became a Sunderland fan is because my favourite player used to be Asamoah Gyan so when he signed for Sunderland in 2010, I decided to follow the lads since then.”

What is it like being part of the branch?

Mark: “Nice to be able to share the individuality and history of 2 ‘real’ teams that are both probably some of the best-known teams apart from the obvious ones in England and Spain.

Angel: “I’d never been in a football supporters branch before. I know many since I’m a fan of Athletic Club de Bilbao. It’s a good way to share football and hobbies with your friends by supporting a club as special as Sunderland. I definitely see many similarities with Athletic.”

Julen: “It’s an absolute pleasure to be part of the branch. We all share the same passion for football.”

Iker: “In Jonny and Lee, we met two genuine fans of Sunderland. The welcoming into the branch and the atmosphere with the other members was brilliant.

“Hopefully, we’ll get back to Wembley and enjoy ourselves with good football and beer.

Chris: “It feels inclusive. For me, in particular...see the first question! It’s not about how many games you’ve ever been to, the accent you have or where you’re from.

“It’s about supporting Sunderland in Bilbao, meeting up together and introducing local friends, too.

“Well done Lee and Jonny, and their families and others, for getting this group started!”

Mark and his sons donning the famous red and white stripes

How was it to have the official meet up?

Mark: “Great to connect with the English lads and amazing to see the interest and surprise from the Basque lads when I showed them my family club heirloom scrapbook from 30s/50s/70s/90s etc.”

Ángel: “It was a great day! We met in a Txoko to eat and then we organised everything to be able to watch the game. Being able to be with friends, with our children and enjoy the game and the official inauguration of the Bilbao Black Cats was a special moment.”

Iker: “From the very first moment, they treated us excellently and made us feel completely welcome and at home. Everyone was friendly and charming.”

Chris: “Great to be together!

“Whether you go to eat and watch the football...or go to watch the football and’ll always come away thinking you knew better than the manager. But at least you won’t be hungry in the Basque Country.”

Are you keen to meet up again soon?

Mark: “Definitely, I have offered one day to do it in Vitoria Gasteiz, another beautiful old city close to Bilbao where I live and home of Alaves, a smaller team that played Liverpool in the famous UEFA CUP final.”

Angel: “Of course, the idea is to be able to get together once a month and enjoy as many matches as possible!! As I said before, it’s a perfect time to meet with friends and our children.”

Chris: “Sure, you can buy a hat.”

Iker: “We’re definitely looking forward to the next meetup but with a victory would be nice.”

Igor and Angel

The match was a thriller - what did you make of it?

Mark: “Bit of a struggle at the start then great substitutions bringing on pacey and skilful youngsters to change the game and unlucky not to win.”

Angel: “The game was very exciting and intense. The fact of always being behind on the scoreboard and being able to recover those goals made the match very exciting.

“I think the result was fair and getting 1 point on the field against a team that played in the Premier League last year was a great result.”

Iker: “I think it was a valuable point at a difficult ground. The team fought right until the end”

Chris: “Not as good as the last one but hopefully better than the next. They’ll be missing Brett Angell.”

After 10 matches Sunderland are in a great position - how do you think we’ll do this season?

Mark: “Probably close or in the playoffs. I’ve found the strategy of signing young players worthy of giving credit to the chosen long-term strategy of the club unlike the one of that naff club where you play on a wet and windy Tuesday night.”

Angel: “I think it can be a great season and if we continue with this intensity and be strong in home games, I think we’ll reach the playoffs comfortably.”

Chris: “Lose on penalties in the Playoff Final against Coventry City. But then we’ll go up anyway because of something to do with Wasps Rugby, the stadium rent and Bon Jovi playing there in August.”

Watford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Vicarage Road Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Julen: “I think we have the chance to be in the playoffs. The team is standing up to other clubs that should be at the top end of the table.

“I hope to go back to Wembley this season and live through another promotion.”

Andoni: ”I’m seeing a very stable team this season, which is giving good performances. It’ll be difficult to go up because it’s a long, hard season but I have total confidence in the team and that we’ll once again be fighting for promotion at Wembley next year.”

Adrián: “The team is earning hard-fought points despite the injuries to Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms.

“As soon as they return and the team adapts to the style of Tony Mowbray, I’m sure we’ll be battling for promotion.

“Ha’way the lads!”


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