When the Stadium of Light opened all those years ago I spent the first few seasons in the North East Corner, and having recently been down to Black Cat House to move our season card seats I will be making a return for the 2023-24 campaign.
There were a few reasons for the switch, but the major one was that we needed somewhere where there were enough spaces available now that another family member has asked to join our group. A couple of us needed to be put on Direct Debit too, but as ever the face to face service in the ticket office was first class and what could have been a bit of a clart on was all swiftly taken care of. Going in person is not available to everybody I know, but credit where it is due; the lad that took care of it was brilliant.
That is not the main focus of this piece however, as the big thing for me whenever season cards go on sale are the prices - more than a quarter of a century on from when my parents were buying me a seat in the North East Corner I’ve now gone and got one just a few rows in front of it for my own eldest and it has actually cost less. Admittedly there is only £3 difference between the £99 Mam and Dad forked out and the £96 being charged now, but that is still some going in the grand scheme of things.
Back in the day it was a flat rate for all ‘juniors’ and I remember the club being rightly lauded for giving such value. The offering is even better now though as the younger members of our group cost even less – there has been a slight increase on last year for the Under 16s, but £48 for is still tremendous in comparison to similar activities. Understandably perhaps given the current climate, some of the older price bands have seen bigger jumps and that will inevitably force people into difficult decisions, but in terms of school aged supporters being able to have a season card Sunderland have pitched it right.
Taking up an extra spot shows the level of interest in the club within my family right now. About 12 months ago I wrote about prices and how they had allowed some of the others to get their first season cards, and since then they have got into SAFC big time. They’ve now roped in another relation, who we’ve already been getting individual match tickets for in recent weeks, but it is about more than just bums on seats.
Food and drink sales in the concourses have undoubtedly increased as a result of my clan going to the game, and there have been plenty of club shop visits as well. At Christmas time there were requests going into Santi for all sorts of kit and other merchandise, and they love devouring the content the club puts out in the programmes and on the social platforms.
It is not just match day either, in the October half-term break we took in the open training session and a ground tour, both of which they spoke about for ages afterwards, and of course we are now having to head back next week for another training event. Some of this might drop off as they get older, but I’m a lot further down the line and am yet to lose interest in Sunderland so if they follow suit we could well be talking about a lifetime of backing. Multiply this by however many other youngsters are in the same boat through getting in the habit and Sunderland can only grow stronger.
Speaking of my own support, whilst I may be dissatisfied with some aspects of the sport, seeing the team through the eyes of newcomers makes me recall the sense of wonderment that first dragged me in. Those Christmas lists and opportunities to meet the players at training remind me of how I felt when I would read the annual from cover to cover for instance or what it was like getting Marco Gabbiadini’s autograph at the Charlie Hurley Centre, whilst wins feel all the better for watching them with loved ones. Defeats are easier to swallow too if you’ve at least spent time with the family, so every cloud and all that.
All of this is because it has been made relatively affordable to bring kids to the match. Some other aspects of the season card package for next season have raised hackles and more communication around these issues would probably be welcome, but in terms of the simple figures I feel we are getting a good deal. The football on the pitch certainly helps on that score too mind, as do the discounts and free entry into Eppleton to watch the U21s. I know the women’s entry is currently under review but would be pleased to see that continue to be included as well if possible; I know of a few people that have gone along to recent fixtures that may not have done so otherwise.
Preparations are being made ahead of the 50th anniversary of Sunderland’s glorious FA Cup final win over Leeds United to mark one of the greatest days in our history – the stories of which I have loved passing down to eager ears these last few months. The current squad has the potential to achieve something exciting too, and with young fans on board we can look forward to the future just as much as we enjoy looking at our past.