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What was it like to watch Sunderland for the first time? US based fans tell their stories!

Sunderland’s tour of the US afforded some Lads fans the chance to see the team in person for the very first time. Here, a bunch of them tell us what that was like...

Kyle Parkhurst

I really enjoyed the preseason tour, and was lucky enough to attend their game in Albuquerque.

I currently live in Salt Lake City, Utah, and have been a fan since 2018, all thanks to Netflix. But have truly been in love with the club ever since.

The Meet and Greet/Open Panel event at Sawmill market was fantastic. Being able to speak directly to Tony Mowbray, and Speakman was a highlight. They were extremely personable, and you could tell they were both enjoying it as well.

One thing I continue to love about this club is the overall openness to our American fans. You see other “big” clubs seem to have a divide or dislike for American members of their fanbase for one reason or another, but I’ve yet to experience anything but acceptance and genuine kindness from our club. Rebecca and the rest of the folks who helped from NASA (North American supporters association) went above and beyond to make the trip seamless and memorable. The work they did won’t get the credit they truly deserve.

I loved meeting everyone, and learning where they were from. I feel as though the trip did a lot to bring the club closer together, and more connected with our worldwide fanbase. The players were class as well. No one was denied a photo or a chat, and the access we had as fans to approach them was wonderful, and not something I feel that other clubs would have allowed.

The highlight of the trip was actually when I was leaving. I was at the airport at the same time as the team. I was able to get a few more photos, most notable for me was Luke O’Nien. I simply asked for a photo, which of course he agreed to. But then he spent the next few minutes just asking about me, how I was doing, and how I was connected with the club. It was one of those moments where, you see how someone like Luke is via his social media, or club videos etc, but to have experienced it first hand was truly special. You can tell he’s absolutely genuine in everything he does.

It’s been a rough few months for me in my personal life, but this trip was the perfect escape from that. I even brought a friend along, who knows nothing really of football or Sunderland, and he had a blast. Before we left, he even got all the fans we were with at a bar to sign his Sunderland shirt, stating “these were some of the nicest and interesting people I’ve ever met”.

Thank you Sunderland AFC, the supporters’ group, and New Mexico United for making this trip so special. Ha’way the Lads!

Stephen DeCaluwe

As a lifelong Chicagoan (and having been to the UK only once), I grew up learning about SAFC through video games, breaking Shearer’s record with Defoe on FIFA and somehow convincing Messi to move to Wearside.

Over the years I have slowly but surely transitioned into watching the games, unfortunately becoming a regular viewer during the Phil Parkinson era (the pandemic freed up my schedule). So, when the opportunity came up to see the lads live, I hopped on a flight from the Midwest down to the Triangle and took in Sunderland vs North Carolina FC.

The first thing that blew me away when I arrived was the number of Sunderland flags, lining both the away section and some of the home sections. It really put into perspective how far and wide Sunderland fans traveled for a preseason friendly, and a good reminder of the amount of black cat supporters across the nation and world.

Also, it was interesting that all of the NCFC fans were there to see Jobe Bellingham, as the chatter I heard from the home fans was “did you know Jude’s brother plays for this team? Only 17?!” It seems Sunderland may have a marketable star on their hands in Jobe; although for his sake I hope it is for reasons other than being Jude’s brother!

As for the game itself, I was taken aback by how fast Jack Clarke is live, as he burst past defenders with ease. The home fans were blown away by the size of Jenson Seelt, and he does look like an absolute unit, and is noticeably larger than even Danny Batth (although I do worry about Seelt’s tendency to head the ball straight back into the middle instead of away). Finally, Chris Rigg is going to be a superstar; he looked so comfortable at his age and fit right in alongside Roberts and Clarke. It wasn’t a good performance for his age, just a good performance.

Overall, it was an incredible experience, and I will definitely be doing everything in my power to see the Lads live again!

Connor Pardikes

I made my trip up to Albuquerque for the chance to watch the Black Cats for the first time in person. Originally from Michigan, I moved to New Mexico after getting a job here last year. In March when the game was announced, I couldn’t believe that they were coming here, and I bought my tickets the first minute they were put on sale.

With being a part of SAFC-NASA, I was able to attend open training, attend a NMU-SAFC dinner, and got to watch Sunderland take home the win!

Being able to meet the staff and players for the first time after watching them on streams for years made the experience amazing, and I can’t wait to make a trip to the Stadium of Light in a few years!

Troy Schmidt

My mom grew up in Newton Aycliffe, so when I first started getting into football I quickly found out we were Sunderland fans, and started following the team on social media.

The League Cup final in 2014 was the first match I watched live, and I was hooked.

I actually travelled to watch the Rotherham game in 2022 but the game was postponed for the international break, so I still hadn’t seen the lads live. I Grew up in North Carolina so was excited that the last game was basically in my hometown.

It was such a great experience - I went to the pub before the game and hearing the chants was so fun. We were front row at the game and I enjoyed every minute, even before the game watching the players warm up and play games together before the match (Luke O’Nien and Trai Hume were having a competition to hit a spot with the ball).

It was a great game even though all six goals happened at the other end of the pitch.

I got to see so many first team players, and I even got on the team's official pages, even though all the replies were making fun of me for whooping, which I guess you Brits don’t do!

Mark Wozniak

I took my seven year old down to San Antonio to see the Lads. It was blistering hot during the warmups and he was not phased at all because he got to meet some “real mackems” at the tailgate, and was absolutely buzzing by game time. He got a wave from the top of the stands by Luke O’Nien during the warm ups. He couldn’t believe it.

After the game he told me he was going to ask Luke if he would take a piggy back picture with him and call Patrick Roberts “mini Messi” - he was too star-struck to say anything when they walked up to sign his shirt!

Maybe the coolest moment was while walking around behind the goal, we saw Pierre Ekwah talking with a few supporters and ran down to get a picture with him. While we were running down the steps he began running towards the tunnel and about ten of the guys starting yelling to him “there’s one more kid!” He stopped, turned around ran all the way back and spent a few minutes with my son, and was happy to do it!

An unbelievable experience. HAWAY THE LADS!

Mark Ryan

I’ve been a Sunderland for 24 years. I always kind of thought I was alone out here in the States.

Walking into the bars in San Antonio and Albuquerque and seeing red and white shirts all around was a joy. Sitting with traveling Mackems and fellow Americans and hearing their fan stories and sharing my own felt fantastic.

I got to meet Tony and the Lads, shake their hands and take plenty of photos. I got a kit signed by almost everyone on the trip — including KLD — and it will be framed and hung up in my home.

The best moment, though, was seeing those red and white kits on the pitch — something I didn’t know if I’d ever witness live. A second time with my wife in Albuquerque, where we live, was the perfect capper.

I no longer feel alone. I feel part of a community.

Thanks to the event organizers at NASA, everyone I met and everyone I didn’t officially meet for making it such an incredible week.

Ha’way the Lads!

Chase Metzger

It was surreal to see SAFC in person rather than on a stream from across the pond... finally, at that. When I arrived in Cary and entered the pub, Sunderland flags adorned the railings and red and white stripes filled my vision, much to my delight.

It was heaven on Earth... from the first pint to the first song, I was in disbelief. Sunderland were right down the street, and my closest friends were all around.

I met a great lad born in Sunderland, Rich, and spent most of the day with him and his lass, Wendy. Great folks. I told him it was easily the most Sunderland supporters I’d ever been around (a few dozen were there midday). I watched them get promoted with about ten close friends; only two of that group are true club followers.

That friend of mine saw them in San Antonio.

After seeing the social media posts from TX and NM, I knew I had to get into the grounds early. Players were friendly and I could tell it was just a different atmosphere than USA teams.

That was proven quickly when I asked Dan Neil and Dennis Cirkin for a picture and they happily obliged. Then Luke O’Nien had entertained some youngsters and returned them to their seats, so I had to approach and shake his hand. Of course, he was happy to take a photo as well.

Then, Kyril Louis-Drefus and Juan Sartori stroll into my section casually and I just couldn’t believe my eyes. The owner of the club walked right past me to sit only a few rows up. That does not happen in America.

I took plenty of photos, met many great SAFC supporters, and still am absolutely elated. Being able to drive just four hours and see Sunderland was a no-brainer.

Now I can’t wait for my trip to the SOL... soon.


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