How dependable is Wikipedia? One answer specific to the nature of the site is that it can only be as reliable as the quality of the information internet users supply.
I turn to it occasionally and am not ashamed, as a professional journalist, to acknowledge that it is often a useful tool. And if I use it, I credit it. But as with all information found on the web, indeed information from any source about which you are not 100 per cent sure, it is best to proceed with caution when making use of what the tool yields.
In the case of the Sunderland AFC page, there are glaring errors and omissions in the list of well known supporters, mistakes that seem all the more bizarre given how much Wikipedia has occasionally dipped into the Celebrity Supporters archives of Salut! Sunderland for its own source material (usually without crediting it to me beyond links from text, plus what I have added myself).
This, then, is the Wikipedia list** of celebrities who support SAFC:
1 Kate Adie – BBC News Reporter
2 Steve Cram – Athlete
3 Brian Marwood – Ex Footballer now Commentator for Sky Sports
4 Sugar Ray Leonard – Ex Professional Boxer
5 David A. Stewart – Eurythmics
6 Neil Tennant – Pet Shop Boys
7 Denise Robertson – Agony aunt
8 David Jones – Presenter For Sky Sports News
9 Paul Collingwood – England one day cricket captain
10 Michael Gray – Footballer who plays for Wolverhampton Wanderers
11 Michael Bridges – Footballer who plays for Sydney FC
12 Steve Simonsen – Goalkeeper who plays for Stoke City
13 Phil Brown – Manager of Hull City AFC
14 Melanie Hill – Actress
15 Gary Rowell – Ex Footballer now commentator for Century FM
16 Heather Mills – Ex Wife of Paul McCartney
17 James Alfred Wight – The actual James Herriot, author of All Creatures Great & Small series of books
18 James Bolam – Actor
19 Bryan Ferry – Singer/Performer
20 Sir Tim Rice – Song Writer
21 Peter O’Toole – Actor
22 Terry Deary – Author, Actor and Scriptwriter.
23 Sir Paul Douglas Nicholson – (2007) Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, United Kingdom and Industrialist
24 Neil McDiarmid – Head physiotherapist at Birmingham City FC
Let me break down the list. Numbers 1, 2, 7, 14, 20 and 22 have all been interviewed by me about their support. Three – 4, 9 and 16 – would be welcome additions. I have tended to avoid listing journalists unless, like Kate Adie, they have become household names, and I also wonder about Wikipedia’s inclusion of former players (10, 11,12, 15).
Dave Stewart and James Bolam are certainly celebs with Sunderland origins, but I have seen little to suggest either has any passionate interest in the club.
Stewart may have drawn the tombola on the pitch, but he also once talked about getting as far out of Sunderland as he could every weekend as a youth, and it wasn’t to attend away games. Bolam is on record as being rather pleased that he abandoned the North East as a whole.
I question whether a manager of Hull City or a physio at Birmingham City are celebs at all, but if I was rash enough to treat George Reynolds as a Celebrity Supporter (though he was technically “clean”, super-rich and chairman of Darlington FC when I interviewed him), then I cannot quarrel with the choice of Sir Paul Douglas Nicholson.
Beyond that, I am not sure about the depth of Heather Mills’s allegiance, but the real man behind James Herriot was definitely one of us until his death – we even exchanged gloomy thoughts on the team in a brief telephone conversation a week before he died.
But there should have been no place in the list for Neil Tennant or Bryan Ferry. This is what I wrote here when wrapping up the first phase of my series:
Neil Tennant, one of the Pet Shop Boys, has more than once been called a Sunderland fan. Untrue. “As much as he supports any team (he doesn’t really), it would be Newcastle United,” his man told me. “But not enough to talk about it.”
Similarly, my hunch that Bryan Ferry might be a fan, since he comes from Washington, fell at the first hurdle. A cursory check through clippings showed him to be another Mag, as I am sure most Wear Down South readers could have told me.
Of those remaining, Michael Bridges was a Spurs fan as a boy, though he may have developed a soft spot for SAFC if not for Peter Reid, and the story of Peter O’Toole’s support, and when it effectively ended, is also told in my series overview
Ones they missed? Tasmin Archer, Bob Fox (only a folk singer, but then Steve Simonsen is only Stoke’s keeper). Robert Kane, Lord – David – Puttnam, Lesley Douglas, Khalid Khannouchi, Joe Simpson, Sean Landless, Alan Price………..and of course George Reynolds
And if you shouted WHO? at any of those names, you will just have to go back into my archives and decide for yourselves whether they qualify (or qualified at time of writing).
** WAS the Wikipedia list. The odd rules of the site seem to allow any Tom, Dick or Harry to challenge the inclusion of this or that material. You could thus raise an objection – pompously or michievously – to the SAFC page including a section on Celebrity Supporters, and expect its removal. Which is pretty much what happened. It was still missing last time I looked.