Salut! Sunderland has more than once mentioned its gratitude to Peadar O’Sullivan, as Cork as Keano, for the photographs he allows us to use. Up to now these have been the pictures he has taken during Sunderland friendlies in Ireland. More of his work can be found at his own site.
Last Saturday, he came down in the photographic world a little, leaving his expensive camera gear safely locked away and trying his hand with my modest little Lumix. The occasion was my birthday party at the Stadium of Light, and with Peadar’s day job bringing him temporarily to Yorkshire, it seemed a good opportunity to get to shake his hand and have a jar or two in his company.
Peadar has now posted, at the fans’ forum of his own beloved Cork City, this warm and perceptive account of his first visit to the SoL (with only passing reference, thanks heavens, to the debacle he witnessed on his second visit the following day). All the pictures* except the first – of him touching the turf – are his:
I was the guest at a function in the Sunderland Stadium of Light last Saturday and decided to take a game in while I was there.
As I had arrived early, I decided to wander around and get a feel for the place. Absolutely everyone I met was incredibly polite and friendly.
Even a quick request for directions would incur a detailed response, coupled with a healthy sprinkling of banter.
It’s very unusual to be indentified in England as having a Cork accent, as opposed to an Irish accent, but this revelation lead to an even warmer reception.
With my own club only being kept off its knees by the players, staff & supporters, I tried to be objective, on my visit to a club being bankrolled by Irish investors, with very open desires to develop an Irish fan base.
After some pre-event drinks in the Harbour View, we were taken to the stadium, which is an impressive venue. It really is a shining light, in the lives of the people from a community devastated by the complete demise of their industrial prowess. There are signs everywhere that football is their one great hope. The one thing that has saved them from utter despair. The investment in their club, the appointment of Roy Keane and their accession to the Premier League, has breathed new life into the area.
The event was saturated with tales of a bygone era, when these men with bus passes where just kids and would stand on the terraces with their fathers.
It wasn’t a posh stadium in those days, but the passion was no less. The family connections were very obvious and when matchday arrived, I was struck by how much that was still the case.
So many kids with their parents and guys with their partners. Everyone wearing club colours.
They know about the Irish connection and welcome visiting fans, but don’t see it as a vital part of the growth of their club.
It’s nothing like other Premier League clubs, with an influx of overseas visitors on matchday. The vast majority of them are local.
So many people that I spoke to were aware of our plight and showed a genuine interest.
They’ve been through some bad times, but kept the faith and feel really positive about the future. In the same way that City is my club and means so much to me, their passion is for the club they’ve grown up with.
I respect them and have a certain affinity with the people of Sunderland.
The event junkies from Ireland, who have bought into the hype, don’t represent what the club stands for, or what it means to its fans.
* The pictures show Peadar testing the grass at pitchside; Pete Robinson and I stretching upwards; Pete Sixsmith in full flow during his speech; Dave Buckingham’s missus threatening to try the cold water treatment; me beside the stirring battle cry that failed to inspire Keano’s troops next day and finally me with Mme Salut at the party.