It was a wet and windy Friday night, but the weather wasn’t going to dampen any spirits at the Sunderland Fans’ Museum.
The former Monkwearmouth Station Museum played host to a truly international event which saw Sunderland supporters from all corners of the globe descend on the treasure trove of memorabilia.
I was fortunate enough to be in attendance with plenty of my Roker Report colleagues and being given the chance to have a quick recorded chat with FA Cup-winning captain Bobby Kerr was a personal highlight, but as a whole, the night was up there as one of the best experiences I’ve had as a Sunderland fan.
The night and the weekend that followed was one which summed up just how great the red and white supporters’ community can be, and it also put into perspective the loyalty and adoration of fans who live thousands of miles away.
It was an honour to chat to these supporters and to hear the tales of what set them on their journey to becoming Lads fans, or what took them overseas.
Many of the international contingent are exiles whilst others have fallen in love with the club from a distance and who used the weekend to return to their footballing home.
Supporters from far flung corners of the planet, each with as much passion for the club as those who live within walking distance of the Stadium of Light, came together during a fantastically organised event.
I was born in Sunderland and although I’ve moved around the UK a fair bit, I’ve always had a strong connection to the North East.
Sunderland AFC got under my skin from an early age and the older I got, the more I could relate to the famous Niall Quinn quote where he talked about how the club had a similar impact on him.
It was almost predictable that I’d follow the red and white path but to see the club get under the skin of so many people who live thousands of miles from Wearside is a beautiful sight.
The weekend proved that, regardless of the fortunes of the club, you’re not alone.
Whether in Sunderland or South Africa, there are seemingly always other fans nearby to share in the joy or the despair of following Sunderland. The international weekend was a celebration of each and every overseas supporter and I’ve got no doubts that next year’s event will be even bigger.
Seeing the many flags displayed around the Fans Museum and then on photos and videos throughout the weekend offered a real insight into just how global this event was. I hope the fans who had it pencilled in for the weeks and months had a great time, because Lord knows they deserved it!
The International Fans’ Weekend will continue to grow and, despite being put on ice as a result of the pandemic, this year showed that the worldwide Sunderland community are always prepared to come together to celebrate the club that we all love.