Most supporters who have followed Salut! Sunderland’s occasional links to the Blackcats forum will have been impressed by the level of debate the site attracts on all manner of SAFC-related issues, and a few extra-curriculum topics besides.
Many will have been unaware that the site was very much the work of Dave Hillam, who combined his passion for the club with an enviable command of IT, a fine memory and a fondness for statistics.
On Aug 27, Dave suffered a massive stroke as he worked at his computer, apparently on the Wear Down South site of the London and Southern England branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association. He died the following day. He was just 53.
I knew of and admired Dave’s work without having known him personally. But a glance at the Blackcats discussion his death inspired offers striking testimony to his qualities.
One of the most moving tributes came from Paul Days, himself an authority (and published author) on Sunderland AFC, who joined the forum on hearing the news specifically to leave the following message:
“Dave and I shared thoughts on the history of SAFC over the years and he was a great help to me on the subject. Not only have we lost a great lad but Sunderland Football Club has lost its best historian since Arthur Appleton.”
Mike Tivnen summed the thoughts of many of us in these terms:
“Sadly, I never met him, but he has been a dedicated guardian of this site and without his enthusiasm and energy the current version may never have got off the ground. His postings were always full of humour and rooted in a deep knowledge of (and obvious love for) SAFC.”
Mick Goulding wrote:
“I met Dave only once, but have corresponded with him more often, recently about his research concering Charlie Hurley. He was a mine of information with an amazing archive of everything to do with SAFC. His sensible, efficient and painstaking administration of this list, coupled with his wit and wisdom, has provided us with the best mailbase in the history of Blackcats.
I’m really saddened to hear this and wish everyone in his family well. Sunderland AFC may not, but should, know that they’ve lost a fantastic supporter.”
And Bill Randle, one of several exiles who belong to the forum, added his own poignant words:
“This is just terrible news. As an exile this list and the people on it are a magical link to my origins and Dave was instrumental in keeping Blackcats going
Even more important however I was fortunate to meet Dave a couple of times on trips back to the UK and he was simply a wonderful man with a great sense of humour and an amazing knowledge of Sunderland AFC. If I could nominate one person to represent all the best qualities of someone from NE England it would be David Hillam.
I wish I could think of something that we could do to be a true memorial to him.”
There was much more. One fan spoke of having turned off Sky Sports News on realising its comparative insignifcance. Sheila Webster asked that pledges for her 23-mile sponsored bike ride be paid, in Dave’s honour, to the Stroke Association; she rode with a T-shirt bearing the slogan “In memory of Dave Hillam”. Salut! Sunderland is making such a donation.
Everyone’s thoughts were with Dave’s widow, Marion, and his family, including his brother Mike, who posted this pessage in response to all that had appeared:
“…… many thanks for all the kind and sympathetic words posted since Dave’s death. It’s good to know that so many thought so highly of him. All I can add is that Dave was always someone to whom I looked for direction and whilst it’s something of a cliche, he could not have been a better brother. After all, he did take me to my first match (Carlisle at home, January 1971, won 2-0) and that, as they say, was that.
Many thanks also to those of you who were able to attend Dave’s funeral and I have to say that, as far as these things go, it could not have gone better. Marion has to take the credit here as it was all right up Dave’s street. The chortles and guffaws which greeted the playing of Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Song as the curtains closed was for me a most fitting testament to someone we will all miss greatly….”
Salut! Sunderland joins all Blackcats members, and – we are sure – countless others, in extending deep sympathy to the Hillam family.