Voice of America: you cannot be serious about supporting Sunderland

Robert Simmons has already made his mark at what one Arsenal supporter has called our ‘eloquent’ site. Here, he describes the experience of being an American who chooses to follow the Lads and offers thoughts about how Ellis Short might drive up interest in SAFC in their native land. You almost hear John McEnroe asking Robert why …


“Oh, you’re a football fan Robert! Who are you a fan of?”

Not surprised by this question, I reply to my new friend quickly, “Sunderland” (as if there could ever be any option)

The confused face looks blankly at me. “Why the hell are you a fan of Sunderland?” is the inevitable response.

This is the exact conversation I had last week while I was on vacation. I was staying at the beach with my family and while I was at a local pub watching a bit of the build up to the opening weekend of the Premier League I met a man who was from somewhere just outside London.

We ended up talking for about an hour about Sunderland, the Mags, and the upcoming weekend of matches. Even then the man just couldn’t wrap his mind around someone from America willingly choosing to be a fan of Sunderland. His surprise did not shock me, I’ve come to expect it when I talk to people about Sunderland but it did get me thinking more about how Sunderland could be begin to grow their fan base in America.

For me growing up, and for most fans I believe, we choose our sports teams based on two main factors. The first is: is there a team close to me? If there is a team nearby they are the easiest to follow because they are in the news, they are more likely to be on local television, and chances are you can get to see them play.

The other major factor in choosing a team is: who does your dad follow? This factor often trumps the location factor because our dad can ingrain in us from a young age who we should follow. Some of my children’s first words were “Go Gators” (a cheer for my favorite American college football team).

Even now I have my own children singing “Wise men say……”.

Before kids can walk and talk it seems their fate of what team to follow has already been decided, and as a parent, I for one am all for that.

That is all well and good for American fans who are fans of American sports teams, but it doesn’t help us in our pursuit of a club in Europe to support. I’ve chronicled my story of how I came to support Sunderland here, but apparently I am a rare breed of fan because most Americans support clubs with lots of money and who can attract the big name international players. That’s likely not going to be something Sunderland can do any time soon, so it’s doubtful our American fan base is going to grow because of that.



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So here are just a few suggestions from me as to how Sunderland can begin to get a hold of the hearts and the pocketbooks of the fans in America.

* Bring the club over to play in the pre-season. In July of 2011 The Mags played a small club based in Orlando Florida. It was a team that doesn’t even play in the highest division here in the States. The Orlando club beat the Mags and I had a good laugh. However, many of the fans who attended that day became Newcastle fans. At the time nobody had heard of many of the Newcastle players, but because they saw them live they started following them.

* Sign an American player. I know that Americans have played for us in the past, and there have been others we’ve tried to sign and it didn’t work out, but Americans love to support other Americans. Clubs like Fulham and Everton have huge American followings all because of Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey. Now I know that none of those names will be coming to Sunderland, but there is plenty of young talent in the States and I’d love to see us have an American on the senior team.

* Have a player who racks up fantasy football points. I’ll admit this is an odd one. However, there are lots of Americans who aren’t fans of a particular team but love to play fantasy football. I’m in a league right now with 30 guys, 10 of whom don’t have a club that they support. These non-partisan guys tend to start to follow the teams who have players who get them lots of points. I actually had a conversation with a guy from the States who follows Sunderland because he had Kevin Phillips on his fantasy team and Phillips helped him win his league.

Those are my three ideas. Two of which that club has direct control over, one is just my hope that we’ll have a player score enough goals to warrant starting for your fantasy team.

While gaining fans in America fans does not guarantee us anything in terms of success, it would make my life in the States a little more fun as a fan of our beloved Sunderland. And as a bonus it may help provide a little extra funding to bring in a player or two to help the squad continue to grow.

* Robert’s site is http://onlysafc.blogspot.fr/

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14 thoughts on “Voice of America: you cannot be serious about supporting Sunderland”

  1. Had a similar conversation just a few weeks back. The bride was from Liverpool and had relatives from there at the wedding as well. Struck up a conversation with a guy by asking if he followed Liverpool or Everton. Much to his surprise, when he asked me who I follow and replied “Sunderland” he was extremely shocked. I was equally surprised to hear that he followed the Chicago White Sox. The same team I follow.

    I agree with other posts that following the likes of Chelsea, Man U, etc is like following the Lakers, Yankees, etc. Not much “fun” in that.

    My girlfriend still cannot understand why I root for a team from a city that I have never been to. My response “guess I have to go see a match at the Stadium of Light!”

    Finally, I also agree that a pre-season tour of the States, or at least Chicago, would be fantastic for them.

    Keep up the good articles!

  2. Seems we are into Africa now also,The US isnt going to get a look in for a while….too many alternative sports over there to really make an impact I d say.But you d think having an American owner that would register with some over in the US somehow.

  3. As Goldy said, SAFC did make their way through the States back in 2003. Got beat by some USL teams and got relegated that season, big surprise, ha!

    Claudio Reyna played a part at SAFC for a while, as did Kenny Cooper (1 game, lol) and Stuart Holden was signed, but never played.

    It seems that SAFC are more interested in the Asian market right now. It is obviously a huge market with a lot of income potential, so can’t say that I blame them. However, I would personally love to see a little more involvement with us Yanks!

  4. We played there in 2005 and played Portland Timbers and The Sounders who are/were based in Seattle. We also went to Canada to play the Vancouver Whitecaps.

    My Dad and Brother went across but I had other commitments so couldn’t make it. Ok, I was skint.

    • All three of those teams are now in the MLS and have huge followings. The only problem with that area of the country is that it’s so isolated from the rest of us.

  5. Good read Robert. I too am a Sunderland fan in America and have had similar conversations. I tell people that support manu or chelsea that their choice is akin to a Brit moving to America and becoming a Yankees fan – there’s no sport in that.

    I would absolutely love to see SAFC play some games over here. In fact the premier league as a whole can and should do a better job of marketing the league in the States.

    • Thanks Jeramie! And I totally agree on the Yankees analogy.
      I’m hopeful that in the next few years the club will come over here for some matches. We traveled to Korea this year, certainly coming to America can’t be any more expensive for the club than that.

  6. If Dempsey came to Sunderland, he could help take the Cats into Europe. Cause and effect. He’s every bit as likely to get there with us as with Everton or Liverpool.

    • I agree that we have as good a chance as Everton or Liverpool to get to Europe, but history and reputation suggest that Liverpool will get him there quickest. I’d rather have Adam Johnson than Dempsey, but I certainly wouldn’t mind having the American too.

      • So will the fixture list. It might only br Hearts but it still counts and it’s this week. We can’t offer that

  7. There is another reason why people choose a particular team that you haven’t mentioned. Picking a big team that wins trophies and gets lots of media attention allied to peer pressure.

    When I worked in the East Midlands, kids who supported teams like Notts County and Burton Albion got no end of stick from those sporting Man U, Chelski, Arsenal and Liverpool kits.

    It is also noticeable that those who choose to follow successful clubs often can’t handle setbacks with the same air of resignation that fans of most teams have developed through years of disappointment. The responses of the Man Ure fans to the Poznan at the end of last season, being a case in point.

    • Malcolm- I think you are certainly right about peer pressure to support big clubs, and about those fans inability to deal with losing. It’s the same in America, but since the teams and cities are so far spread out you are more likely to just be near fans who support the same team as you. Cities like New York and Chicago that have multiple teams in the city are exceptions of course.

  8. We can offer Clint all he wants except for one thing, and it’s his biggest demand. He wants a chance at champions league football and we can’t quite make that promise. I think he could fit out wide for us or play off the main striker. Heard a rumor that Everton might make a push for him. They want to be team America I guess.

  9. Clint Dempsey badly wants away from Fulham. Liverpool’s expressed an interest but hasn’t, I believe, made an offer. I think he’d be a good fit at the SoL. So… why not?

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