Monsieur Salut writes: the great family of Sunderland AFC supporters has offshoots throughout the North East and wherever in the world that people from the region have travelled and settled for work or family reasons. Our illustrator Jake came up with the idea a couple of years ago of reporting on some of the branches that exist in far-flung places. Manchester is not really far-flung, but it’s as good a place as any to start. I turned to my old colleague Dave Bowman to introduce his Greater Manchester branch of the SAFCSA in the 21st year of its inception (or should that be the 22nd?) …
THE spring and summer of 1997 was certainly a seminal period for Sunderland AFC. The club was relegated from the Premier League; bade a sad farewell to Roker Park but, on the plus side, signed an unknown striker from Watford called Kevin Phillips and moved into the spanking new Stadium of Light.
1997 also saw the birth of the Greater Manchester SAFCSA, which – 21 years on – is one of the biggest and longest established supporters’ branches outside the North East.
Despite the trauma of the past two seasons, the branch has money in the bank, an expanding membership base and firm plans to run a full-size coach to every Saturday and Sunday League match at the Stadium of Light plus at least nine away games.
Relegation is nothing new to the branch and, in fact, it was SAFC’s final game of the 1996/97 season that gave founder and former chairman Dave Bowman the idea to try and set it up after an estimated 13,500 Red & Whites invaded Selhurst Park for the crunch ‘last stand’ game against Wimbledon.
Says Dave: “It was an unbelievable atmosphere before the game with Sunderland fans from all over the UK and beyond displaying their flags and banners and outnumbering the home supporters by two to one. The Lads lost the match 1-0 and were relegated when the news came through that, against the odds, Coventry had won at Spurs.
“It was a heart-breaking moment but my over-riding memory was of the vast numbers of Sunderland supporters who were there. It made me think there would be enough people in and around Manchester to set up up a branch and that’s exactly how it worked out. Over 40 people turned up to hear Dennis Tueart at our first branch meeting and everything just progressed from there.
“At one of our early branch meetings during the Peter Reid era the club’s marketing executive revealed that, at the time, Sunderland had over 8,000 season ticket holders living south of Leeds which just shows the potential and passion that exists for our club if Stewart Donald, Jack Ross and the players can get the stadium rocking again.”
Part of the branch’s ongoing success is the fact that Manchester is a natural hub for supporters based in Lancashire, Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Merseyside as well as Greater Manchester itself.
Added Dave: “Over the years, thanks to the proximity of Manchester Airport, we have also welcomed SAFC fans onto our branch coach from as far afield as Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland and the USA and we have regular travellers and members based in West and North Yorkshire as we pick up at Junction 24 on the M62 and in Thirsk.”
Nowadays, the branch is mainly run by Glen Hutchinson and Martin Syer, with Dave helping out from time to time. New members are always welcome and if you would like to receive a copy of the summer newsletter which contains full details of transport plans and prices please email firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also phone or text Greater Manchester branch on 07814543175 and follow the branch on Twitter: @GtrMcSAFCSA