Sunderland Out West: Muppet Show where fans were the real stars

Malcolm Dawson writes….we’ve already had some belting stuff from our friends in SAFC NASA. What follows is no exception. Jesse Burch may not have seen our boys as often as the rest of us but he shares our passion, shares our pain and has, through some long distance form of osmosis, absorbed the DNA of the true Sunderland supporter. Whilst most of us back in the UK were snugly tucked up in bed he was there to witness the latest pre-season outing against the Mexicans of Pachuca and he suffered at first hand, what those of us who live a bit closer to Wearside experience on a much more regular basis.

Here’s Jesse’s account of his day.

SAFC 1 – FC Pachuca 3

Jesse - post caffeine fix on the road to Sacramento
Jesse – post caffeine fix on the road to Sacramento

I’m embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t sleep the night before SAFC’s match versus FC Pachuca. I live in Los Angeles and set my alarm to wake up at 4:30am for the drive up to Sacramento and was lights out at 10pm. But I lay there and tossed and turned until 12:30am, like a kid on the eve of Christmas. “I’m too old to be behaving ilke this,” I thought to myself. But I couldn’t help it. The day had come.

From the moment I heard that Sunderland would be traveling to California I knew I’d be there to watch them play. So I wasn’t surprised in the least when I woke up before my alarm went (at 3:45am), rolled out of the bed, and into the car at 4.

And on the drive before the coffee stop
And on the drive before the coffee stop

Because I was unencumbered by my kids and wife — and their requisite rest stops and bathroom breaks — I was able to get to Sacramento in about five and a half hours, which is very good time. Unfortunately, because I got started so early, that brought me to Sunderland’s pub HQ a full two hours before they opened. Nevertheless, I parked in the back beside a trash dumpster, rolled the windows down to fully appreciate the aroma and cool down (it was already hot), and jotted a few thoughts for this dispatch.

As I was struggling to sleep the night before, I was struck with the realization that my heroes, my team, were in the same time zone I was. It’s perhaps a trite or simple observation, but hear me out: my experience of Sunderland is intrinsically-tied to distance and time. The thousands of miles from England and the subsequent shift in what is for me traditional “game-time” (early breakfast) colours a lot of my experience of supporting Sunderland. It’s exceedingly unusual for me to have a day spread out before me in which to luxuriate and celebrate before making my way to the ground to watch the team I love so much.

As I was ruminating on this, Bonnie, from the Bonn Lair, saw me as she was getting into her car to make a market run. “Here’s another Sunderland fan!” she said, to no one in particular. I introduced myself and she kindly allowed me to head inside the pub where it was much cooler.

The Bonn Lair is a really, really great little pub — with an emphasis on little. I can see why its proprietor, David, was concerned about how many punters we’d be bringing in, as it’s cozy inside. But lining the walls were pennants, flags, memorabilia and scarves from every club under the sun. The decor was comfortable and homey, and as I sat myself down in a deep booth to wait, I was happy about what was the random choice of this pub based on its proximity to Bonney Field.

Jesse's flag at the pre-match pub
Jesse’s flag at the pre-match pub

In my conversations with SAFC they had suggested that there could be between 150-200 people coming over from England, in addition to those in the US affiliated with NASA. I had done my best to publicise the location, but anxiety started creeping in as the pub staff were making preparations around me. And even though I wasn’t the host, per se, I started to worry that the promised numbers wouldn’t show.

Thankfully, shortly after the pub opened, I was joined by some of my friends from NASA Region 9, and then more, and then more. Before I knew it, the pub was a blur of red and white — some old faces, some new; some from a few hours’ drive, some from as far away as Holland! But the one unifying feature of the lot was their kindness. Indeed, I have yet to meet a Sunderland supporter who isn’t an all-around decent person. The old adage that “he’d give you the shirt off his back” applies to pretty much everyone I met yesterday.

Graeme and Riki
Graeme and Riki – SAFC through and through
Red and White Army at the Bonn Lair
Red and White Army at the Bonn Lair

As the afternoon passed, we drank and ate and laughed and talked — mostly about the team and the debut of the new away kit, but also about our various families, lives, and interests — and before we knew it, it was game time. Some of the NASA folks had bought tickets to a chartered bus to the ground, so we headed across the street to ride to the stadium. Once there, we hurried through the fairground — where a garish and busy county fair was very much in swing — and made our way to our seats.

It was a discordant environment, what with the field surrounded by a pointless monorail track, Ferris wheel, and sounds of carnival rides. It all rendered the match almost an afterthought, but I felt a slight surge of excitement to finally be there, to finally see the Lads in person after a little over eleven years.

Unfortunately, the excitement turned to almost immediate revulsion as the Lads took the pitch in what I can only describe as one part away kit, one part highlighter pen, one part Kermit the Frog costume. Dear God. What are we wearing?! A chorus of “Green Army!” sprung up to our left as I put my face in my hands. I’ve seen bad kits before, but this takes the cake. We look like fluorescent popsicles. Toxic waste. Lime lollies.


It's time to put on make up - it's time to light the lights - it's time to get things started
It’s time to put on make up – it’s time to light the lights – it’s time to get things started – click on pic for a better look at the green kit

Anyhow, the match started brightly and my initial horror was quickly put to rest as Jack Rodwell put us in front quickly with a well-worked goal.

And then we went back to being Sunderland. I had hoped we wouldn’t be worse than we’d been on Tuesday, and we weren’t. Much. But we weren’t that good either. Pachuca sprayed the ball around comfortably for the next 80 minutes, we stood off them, they scored three goals and Pickford made a good penalty save. Other than that, honestly, the only highlight of the match — for me, anyhow — was fellow countryman John Calfas’ lyrics to a new song about the abomination we were wearing. (Blinded by the kits/They’re green and they glow/And they’re giving people fits.)

But here’s the thing that ultimately soured me to the match — and I intend to write the club about it, because this is just not on, in my opinion:

After the final whistle blew, the players, en masse, simply walked off the pitch, their backs turned to the red and white in the stands, to the flags adorning our end of the stadium, to the support who had travelled far further than I had on their own dime. O’Shea and Pickford turned halfheartedly, clapped twice, and joined the rest. No acknowledgment. No thanks.
The gentleman next to me muttered, “They did the same thing on Tuesday.”

All the way from Jarrow to California
All the way from Jarrow to California

What did I expect? Certainly not to be joined at the pub by the whole squad or anything. I’m not unreasonable or stupid. But this was downright disrespectful. Something, lads! A wave. A clap. A thank you by way of simple acknowledgment for the support and effort to be here and watch you go through the motions (and lose, again). Someone needs to have a word.

But despite my disappointment I returned to the thought I had after sitting in Santa Monica for the NASA General Meeting back in October and watching us lose 8-0 to Southampton: that SAFC is the support first, the team second. Sometimes I feel they don’t deserve us.

Indeed, as Niall Quinn so astutely pointed out, “”If Sunderland produced a team as good as the fans, then they’d be in Europe every year.”

Our bus - their bus
Our bus – their bus

We made our way back to the pub, singing as we did on the way to the match, and parted ways until the next time. Despite feeling let down by the players, I thought, “I am still wholeheartedly devoted to this club.” Because the club is the people.

Someone should remind the Lads.

Jesse on himself:

I’m Jesse Burch, US-born and bred and have been supporting Sunderland since the year SuperKev won the Golden Boot.

Why Sunderland? Totally, utterly random. A friend of mine invited me to join a Premier League low-stakes, week-to-week betting pool whereby we’d pick results for quarters.

Like I said: low stakes. To make it interesting, he suggested I follow a team myself, but the only ones left (his mates had chosen their teams already) were Southampton, Derby, and Sunderland. I did my bit of research, liked the Quinn-Phillips partnership, have always loved an underdog anyhow – and the rest is history. I could’ve walked away without reciprocity at any time in the last 15 years, but I can’t. I’m Sunderland ’til I die.

safc nasa

14 thoughts on “Sunderland Out West: Muppet Show where fans were the real stars”

  1. Bridcott couldn’t find a red and white shirt if he kicked the ball into the crowd…I really hope he’s gone before the season starts,as for the green shirt,,,its something strange and it may grow on us?

  2. Commercial reasons I guess Ian.

    With so much white on the home kit there is a danger of a clash with Spurs and the ref demanding we play in a change kit so white is out as an alternative.

    With Palace playing in red and blue stripes the home kit and a blue strip clash – last season we needed a third kit which never went on sale.

    Watford and Norwich play in yellow but that doesn’t clash with the red and white stripes so would have been a sensible choice especially as Watford are going with the black shorts and trim and not the red.

    Black might have been OK unless we got an awkward ref at Sid James’ Park who refused to allow the stripes but it would almost certainly not have been acceptable at Bournemouth who play in red and black stripes.

    Whilst we usually wear the stripes against Villa and WHU it has been known for us to wear the change kit if the refs decide the stripes and maroon are not distinctive enough.

    That leaves green, pink, grey and back to yellow.

    I have long been of the opinion that some colours are better than others – especially under floodlights where I think yellow with royal blue shorts make the players stand out. Grey and green tend to get lost in the background and SAF seemed to agree when he made his team swap their kit at half time at Southampton some years back.

    But the problem with yellow is that it echoes the colours that some stewards wear and I can see Liam Bridcutt and Billy Jones trying to pass to them instead of a team mate.

    So we come back to green. I just hope we don’t have to wear it on a Friday – not that I’m superstitious (touch wood!) If we start winning in it it may change our views.

    At least it’s better than the Mags’ banana and custard job of a few seasons back and Carlisle’s deck chair multi stripe. Hartlepool’s training bib black and pink effort last season was a shocker but nothing comes close to a brown and yellow check design I remember Huddersfield having in the late 70s or early 80s.

    • Or they could have chosen a beautiful ORANGE kit with dark blue shorts. Oh, they did, but only for training.

  3. As for the green strip,what on earth made them choose that mess of a shirt.Myself I liked last years blue kit.

  4. I think Sunderland should give all the supporters who were at the 2 matches in the US a match day ticket to a home game of their choice,flight included to all the fans and also treated to meeting the players and a pre-match meal and a tour of the ground.The way the players treated these fans by just walking off the pitch at the end is unbelievable and the club should see in the future that these overpayed pre madonna’s are told to get their lazy arses over to wherever the Sunderland fans were and show some respect to them,the US kids who traveled with their dads to watch these matches would have been over the moon to have been so close to the players.Lets not let this happen again!

    • Mention of Niall Quinn reminds me of how much he insisted the club and players kept its connection with the supporters. I haven’t been to pre-season games for years but in Denmark the team spent time talking to fans, signing shirts etc. Even if they’ve lost, how much effort would it take to come over and acknowledge the supporters.

  5. Enjoyed your article. Totally agree with your remark about with lack of respect and consideration shown by the players. Your description of the away kit was spot on. What a mess!

  6. That’s a disgrace the way the team behaved at full time Jesse. The ungrateful b@$t@rd$ should have shook the hand of each and every one of those fans for making the effort to watch their “heroes”. Sometimes I wonder why I bother…

  7. Horrendous choice of colours. I was hoping for a nice blue number. I think its about time clubs registered both their home and away colours and stuck to them, at least we’d have some idea of what to expect. They’ll be giving this number away for a fiver in a years time.

    • I’ve just watched the clip of the training session in Canada and the training kit is superb. Orange tops with blue shorts. Reminds me of my lovely Cloggie boys. I think a campaign is required to persuade the club to change. Over to you M Salut.

  8. I’m a bit nonplussed by the choice of colour for the new change kit too. Had the Drummaville consortium still been involved then I don’t think I’d have been so taken aback.

    Had we been Mexico, Ireland (North or Republic), Cameroon or even Norwich City then I think I’d be OK with it. As it is I’m not over impressed but perhaps it’ll grow on me. As is the way these days the number of shirts sold over the next year or so will be what determines whether or not green is ever used again.

  9. Contact the club Jesse and express your displeasure , the team should acknowledge your support , weather they view the match as a training exercise or not . The fans as always make the effort . Nice to see you were in the same time zone as the lads ,as seasoned watchers like most of us on here could tell you ,sometimes they seems to be seconds behind everyone else , including the opposition , a strange phenomenon . We don’t seem to be covering ourselves in glory during our American adventure , lets hope Mr Advoocat isn’t spinning us a yarn and it is down to double training sessions and the heat . We seem to have made some decent signings though , cautiously optimistic for the new season , cheers .

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