Help our fans bring light into damaged lives

Let’s not just hear it for the lads, and lasses, of the Billingham branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association. Let’s dig into our pockets to support their charity walk: a 32-mile overnight trek to the Stadium of Light for a forthcoming home match* (and if God is watching, He’ll make sure to give us three points in honour of the gesture).

It happens every year – the sponsored walk, not necessarily the points – as the pictures suggest. This year three charities, instead of the usual two, will benefit.

The proceeds from sponsorship will be split equally between Zoe’s Place, apparently one of only two Baby Hospices in the whole of the country, and Daisy Chain.
Infants from birth to five years with life limiting or terminal illnesses, and special and complex needs, are cared for by Zoe’s Place. All the services are free to the families that use them and there is no fixed catchment area.

And the Daisy Chain Project, based at Calf Fallow Farm, Norton, aims is to build an overnight respite and family care centre for children with autism and special needs.

This year, the branch walk will also aid the SAFC foundation, which pockets everything tossed into buckets on the final stage of the walk from Ryhope into Sunderland, and in and around the ground. It is hoped that the Mayor of Sunderland and some ex-players will show up for that part of the walk.

Last year, the event raised more than £8,600.

All Salut! Sunderland can say for now is that this year’s initiative is already guaranteed to make some money. I need to check, but I expect some time soon to receive a cheque or bank credit representing pretty much the extent of this site’s income: at last count a figure standing at just under £50 for, would you believe, a whole year of Amazon purchases made via the book ads that appear here.

When that sum reaches a certain amount (which I think is £50), it is paid to me. And when it does arrive, it will be put into the Billingham and Distrtict Branch charity pot, to be divided two or three ways as our fellow SAFC supporters wish. Anyone who derives enjoyment from Salut! Sunderland, and indeed anyone who doesn’t, is urged to find a little spare cash for these excellent causes (payment details appear in a footnote).

Neil “Barney” Warren – I’ll need an address, Barney – explains the history of the branch and its annual charity walk:

I’m a 47 year old Billingham lad who’s been following the lads for about 33 years through thick and thin. Used to watch Boro and Man City (Man City were my favourite team at that time – Colin Bell = legend).
Someone took me to Roker Park – I couldn’t believe the noise, the passion, the size of the crowd, the flags and scarves. We used to be in the queue at 1.30pm for a kick off (good old 3 o’clock kick offs, eh?) to get our place at the front of the main stand paddock.
I used to stand in awe and gaze at the Fulwell end…I thought it was full of maniacs. It was about 3 years later before I dared or was allowed to go in. It was great – stood in a couple of different places, then eventually into the cage at the back.
Billingham had and still has a very large loyal fan base. Eventually I started going with lads from the Swan pub, a real Sunderland stronghold. These lads followed the team all over the country…..
Hitch hiking became the thing to do on home match days, it was good fun all setting off in our little groups, off up the A19. There was like an order of rank, hardest, oldest, loyalist etc….. There was only once I never got there – 3 of us only got so far and had to hitch hike home.
Over the years have made many great friends, seen the high, the lows and had some fantastic days out. To be honest, some of the best days of my life.
Many, many things spring to mind, it’s hard not get carried away. Southampton away in a Transit van for the weekend when Keegan was there, about 13 of us in the back. Watford and Chelsea away in the league cup in 85. We mainly travelled in transit vans and Luton vans – it was mad how many people we fitted in them. Drinking lager and lime in the Vestry in Sunderland – a haunt for the Billingham lads.

There were what Barney coyly calls “scrapes and adventures”, though he assures me was always above hooliganism himself. As the Lads grew older, they also became wiser. But the loyal support of most has never faltered.

In the weeks leading to the play-off final in 1998, the Billingham lads met to launch a group transport project. This led a little later to the formation of the SAFCSA’s 25th branch. At its peak, in mid-1999 there were 160+ members and the branch produces a newsletter The A19.

“More like a big family – nice people,” is Barney’s description. “We decided some years ago to try and show everyone what great fans and caring people Sunderland fans are, hence the walk.

Some of the charities chosen have directly helped some of our branch members, indeed my wife had a huge brain tumour removed and the results were incredible, truly miraculous. The skill of the surgeon has given her an almost normal life. So the year after her op – we chose their charity as one to support because of the unbelievable results they can achieve and the difference they can make to people’s lives.”

* The walk takes places prior to the match against Man City on Sat April 12. Cheques, payable to Billingham & District Branch of Sunderland Supporters, or offers to sponsor the walkers should go to:
Barney Warren 22 Deighton Grove, BILLINGHAM TS23 3UD
Strict records are kept of all donations made to the branch for charitable purposes.


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