The Mackem diaspora (1): from Murton to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll

Read these stories – and the further ones that will follow – of Sunderland fans spread around the world, add your own and also take a look at the new Blackcats Google map that shows who is where …

Whenever we bemoan the fact that some footballers, or – as Mr Roy Keane may have observed – their Wags, refuse to move to Sunderland because of where it is, some of us feel a tinge of guilt.

I am talking about people who moved away from the North East for reasons of work, love or duty.

How many of them are truly likely to return? It’s 38 years since M Salut left County Durham and he feels no less attached to “home” than he did when he left. But would he, could he, go back?

If I remember correctly the Sunderland Echo website has a fancy world map with little hi-tech graphics versions of flags to show where exiles are living. I should know since I am or was on there somewhere: SW Durham is not part of the Echo’s natural catchment area but is very much part of the broader SAFC fan base throughout the county to which Sunderland belonged until 1974.

Recalling her own regular childhood visits to Roker Park, Kate Adie put it like this in her memorable interview, for the London SAFC Supporters’ Association branch magazine Wear Down South and subsequently reproduced here:

“I remember thinking how curious it was as you got nearer the ground to see all these rather ancient buses full of supporters from Tow Law or Spenymoor or Crook.

It was fairly straightforward when I was growing up in County Durham. If you liked cricket, Durham CCC was your team; if you liked football, it was Sunderland. There were occasional Newcastle (especially north of Durham) supporters and presumably, though I don’t recall any, Boro fans going east towards Teesside. Otherwise, by and large, County Durham was SAFC territory.

Out in SW Ontario, Jeremy Robson, a true son of Murton, had the bright idea of asking fellow subscribers to the Blackcats list for their own potted stories of heading away from the North East, whether overseas or just to far-flung points of the British Isles.

The question has produced a string of fascinating responses which I am happy to reproduce at Salut! Sunderland, which has a sizeable proportion of NE emigrants among its readers.

Not everyone is an exile at all. It may have been fathers or mothers that originally left Wearside or the towns and villages of County Durham which have traditionally produced support for Sunderland AFC. All memories are welcome; I’d love to see new ones appear in the Comments.

Let it start with Jeremy, who readers will know is a regular contributor to these pages, and then move on to one or two other examples. More personal stories, long and short, will appear in the coming days.

Jeremy Robson

* Although I haven’t lived in the NE proper (apart from one year some 20 years back) for 24 years, I think that my interest in the banter on the list has been keener when further away.

First moved from the NE in 1987 and was in the Milton Keynes area for three years, and have lived in the Sheffield, E. Midlands, and N. Yorks before moving to Ontario three+ years ago.

Just a word to Ian L (a fellow subscriber who had mentioned a possible move to Canada): don’t worry about Vancouver getting bad winters. They don’t! If you are scared of real Canadian winters then Ontario is fairly typical. It tends to be wet out there but they don’t get snow very much at all out there. If you can afford to live out west then there’s nowhere really to compare it to in terms of quality of life (maybe southern California). Canadian summers tend to be better in the east though such as here. Ontario summers are the benefit of 4/5 months of snow and freezing cold.

Stephen Worthy

Born in Surrey (Farnham) brought up there (Weybridge then Woking, the latter I count as my home town). Dad a Surrey boy too (born in Woking brought up in Addlestone).

But dad’s parents both from Southwick, but grandad moved to Southampton with family when he was six. Nana, bless her, still going strong at 95, lived in same house in Addlestone since 1937 and still has her Mackem accent.

Coulda been brought up in Sunderland if my dad had taken up an offer of a job at my uncle’s car dealership in town after he and mum got married. He didn’t. As such we’ve never lived in Sunderland.

But still feels like a kinda home.

… I live not too far from the A1 in N London then drive 73 miles up it to go to work half a mile off it on Peterborough’s north-westerly outskirts.

I turned down a place reading American Literature at State. 20 odd years ago I wasn’t the complete Americanophile I am now, thought I’d miss family and friends too much so chose Uni of Surrey.

One lad I know did go to Lansing and had a great time and did well. Did a fair amount of studying but despite being an average-looking b***** he also did a lot of other things. Or should I say American lasses. He said he only had to open his mouth and his English accent would have them queuing up at his dorm door. SIGH!

M Salut

Like a lot of Cats, I’m from the broader Co Durham catchment area of SAFC support – though I was born in Hove; my parents moved north when I was a baby – and left (Shildon) for London in 1973. Worked for the Harrow Observer but couldn’t get a ticket for the Cup Final despite the promises, right up the eve of the match, from the sports editor, a hopeless drunk who was my neighbour in the company flats. Since then have lived in Bristol, London again, Paris, south of France, Abu Dhabi, London again and now back in France (nr Toulon)

Bill Randle

I was born in Sunderland (as were both my parents and their parents) and spent my early years living in one of those “temporary” pre-fabs that were supposed to last for only one or two years after the war, but in our case gave us “shelter” for almost 20! It’s quite something to look back and remember living in a tin can!

Then we had the “delightful” experience of moving as one of the first inhabitants of Town End Farm – though I did spend many afternoons playing in the old gun placements along the top of the hill above our house. My mother – now 91 – stills lives there on her own and simply refuses to move anywhere else. My Dad was at sea for many years (including the RN during the entire war) and then worked in the shipyards, mainly Doxfords. I went in a few times when there was going to be a launch and (like my relatives who were miners) couldn’t believe people worked so hard for such a relative pittance. He was the first person to take me to the games and the last time I was over to see my parents before he died, I still have the vivid memory of the smile on his face when I went with him and my older son (then 5) to see Sunderland hammer Charlton 4-0 at Roker (my son complained that the crowd was so noisy that he couldn’t read the book he had with him).

Frankly, however, unlike some others on here, I don’t (and didn’t) miss the “old” Sunderland and I was glad to leave – it was a poor, industrial wasteland that had been in decline for decades (though, my Canadian wife was pleasantly surprized with the place when she made her first visit and, over the years, all of us have enjoyed walking along Seaburn & Roker, eating whelks and searching for shells during trips back – unfortunately the only game I have seen us win at the SOL was against Barrow in the Cup).

Initially, I left to go to University in Wales, before doing graduate work at the University of Waterloo in Canada and then Michigan State University (where, among things, I briefly helped teach a course in Black American history – as you might guess, nearly all the students were black and I really cant imagine what they thought of this white guy with a very strange accent). Anyway, I discovered I didn’t like living in the States or teaching, so I came back to Canada to go to law school and I have now lived in Toronto longer than Sunderland! As Jeremy knows, living in Canada means there are an incredible number of games live on TV.

I have had the pleasure (and it has always been a pleasure) to meet several Blackcats (Sheila, Anders, Nick (who put me up in his London flat though we had never met before), the several Andys, and numerous others) over the years and found them, without fail, to be a simply wonderful group of people, with both a passion for, and incredible knowledge of, Sunderland football club (though, of course, no-one could touch the sadly departed Dave Hillam).

Rob Hutchison

My parents moved to Durham from Nuneaton when I was 8, 1972. I lived in Durham, Broom Park (the posh houses, nicknamed) to be exact. I didn’t follow a team at this point, and first day at school I was put under siege as to whether I would support Sunderland or the filth. I got home that evening as asked my dad whether he worked near Newcastle or near Sunderland, as this would sway my decision. Needless to say the fact that he was teaching in Grange Park Secondary School swung it, and seeing as we won the cup the following year, it turned out to be a mighty fine decision. Frankly it’s fortunate he was nowhere near Hartlepool or I would have been knacked.

Started going to Roker Park on the coach that used to go round Bearpark, New Brancepeth, Esh Winning and Ushaw Moor and then onto the ground. Started off in the Roker, and graduated up to the Fullwell. A couple of lads called Campbell or Tinkler organised it I believe, but I may be wrong.

I spent most of my spare time in Durham and rarely went to Sunderland apart from match days. As I got older in the late 80s in spent most of my weekends in Newcastle trawling round Volume, Windows, Pet Sounds, and record fairs for rare metal stuff, then off to the Mayfair on the evenings. Many a dodgy night had, probably with some reprobates of this list I would imagine.

I moved to London in 1991 to work in the music industry after early having spent three years at Our price in Eldon Square, and discovered the London Branch and an instant social life (Ian – cheques “in the post” for this year’s subs). Happily divorced now, and my two nippers aged 14 and 12 are the only two mackems in their school in Ruislip and they currently love the fact.

I don’t miss Sunderland, but I should get back to Durham more often than I do, which is only normally a couple of times a year. Next visit up is for WBA at home, and then a long easter weekend, taking in the Randy Mandy Rowing Club re-union Sunday night.

Mike Allcock

Born on Anglesey, North Wales – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – if you must know) to a Yorkshire father and a North-East mother (Lanchester, County Durham, though her parents were from Easington Colliery and that is where the majority of my family still live) who had met at a party in Sunderland.
Returned to Lanchester almost immediately and lived there and just west of Hartlepool until I was five, when I was rudely removed to Luxembourg (it was that or Dounreay, mind, so I think I probably got the better deal).

Stayed in Luxembourg until I was finished secondary school apart from a year back at boarding school in Durham to see if it would help my marks (it didn’t) and to pick up some O Levels as my parents were genuinely worried I wouldn’t make it to A Level standard. My grandparents naturally made sure I lived with them most of the year rather than at school. Spent every Christmas and summer, and most Easters too back in Durham too as my mother missed England and her parents. My Dad didn’t but then he wouldn’t… he was in Sellafield or back at Hartlepool doing inspections every other week.

Spent three years at St Andrews (back to Sunderland for most home games, Dundee Utd when we played away), mostly drinking, smoking resin and playing guitar with the result that a) I couldn’t get any postgrad funding and b) wasn’t really fit for anything BUT more education. Found a postgrad lace at South Dakota State University which came with a job teaching first year Computer Science so spent 18 months doing a masters in rural (but beautiful) hell, driving to Minneapolis/St Paul every week to check the English papers (the bartenders could tell the Brits, we were the ones who picked up the Sun and turned to the back page, not page three).

Moved back to Luxembourg upon graduating, and spent a couple of years there and in Sweden before moving to London where I spent 8 years going back north for home games and to Spurs in midweek. I’d had enough of London after that and had built a lucrative (if you can define lucrative as ‘works 10 hours a week and makes a little more than the dole’) contracting business so I moved back up to the North East and spent four years living in Hendon where at least I could walk to games. Got married to an American lass in 2003 and one day in late 2004 woke up to her screaming because there was a lad lying with his head caved in on our front porch. Not really news if you’re used to most British cities, but to a woman from West Virginia (where they shoot people, instead) it naturally came as a bit of a shock. This also coincided with her father losing his job at the steel mill and having to move down to Florida, while her mother who works for the Board of Education was better off staying put (sound familiar, fellow diaspora dwellers?). Which is why I’m writing this from the WV panhandle about 25 miles west of Pittsburgh, where I’ve been for 5 years now and will probably stay for another 3-5 until my mother-in-law retires to Florida when we’ll return to the UK (probably North Yorkshire, Sunderland is a little far from my parents who are now in their early 70s and ensconced in north Lancashire).

There you go, you didn’t ask for it but a potted biography. But if you ever do make a book out of all this, Dr J, just put in ‘was born, watched Sunderland, talked (typed) s****, drank beer’. Far briefer and just as accurate.

Monsieur Salut

Next Post