Malcolm Dawson writes…..we at Salut! Sunderland are forever grateful for the input of members of SAFC NASA as The Lads prepare for the forthcoming Premier League campaign on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The background of its members is varied but it matters not one jot if they were born in Washington D.C. or Washington Tyne and Wear, there is no doubting the passion they show. Graeme Beattie explains how and why he became involved with the North American regiment of the Red and White army.
Fly me to the moon, or past Pluto.
SAFC NASA and me – a personal journey.
I was born in South Hylton in 1961 and didn’t have a choice which club I was going to support. My first game was sometime in the mid 60s, standing on the “Big Step” in the Fulwell with my Dad. A move to Newton Aycliffe came in 1970 and every home game we’d battle through the traffic to get to the match. When I got my own first car, my mates and I would take turns to drive, home and away. This coincided with another move – to the Mainstand paddock. We bought our first season tickets in the mid 80s just as Lawrie Mac came along to put us back on the football map.
By 1994, I was working in oil & gas and travelling a lot, so started having to miss games, it hurt to be stuck in an hotel room somewhere in the world trying to follow the lads on a dodgy internet connection, without other Sunderland supporters around.
Eventually, by way of Aberdeen, Beijing, (I can’t quite explain how nerve wracking it was to be on a flight from China while my club were playing an FA Cup semi final in 2004.) and Edinburgh, I found myself, in 2006, in the biggest oil town in the world; Houston TX.
At that time, there was very little Premier League coverage on TV here, let alone Championship, so I began to make the trip to the SOL a bit more often during our promotion season, including that heady night v Burnley, watching Carlos Edwards score “from the banks of the River Wear.” Since then, as the TV contracts in the US were negotiated, then renegotiated, we’re in the position where we can watch every Sunderland game as a matter of course.
When I arrived in Houston, I didn’t know any fellow Sunderland fans here other than having seen one on a message board. We agreed to meet up for a drink and to watch a match together, and that led, eventually, to a group of Sunderland lads meeting up in Houston every week to watch the match. About the same time, we got wind of someone trying to kick off an official supporters club in the USA, and one of the Houston lads got in touch.
In 2013 SAFC North American Supporters Association (NASA) was born. NASA’s raison d’etre is to bring together Sunderland fans on this side of the Atlantic, and to continue to grow the fan base over here. With over 200 members we’re now the biggest overseas branch, and close to being the biggest overall.
We have members from Alaska, Canada, Mexico and from every corner of the lower 48 states. There are expats, and their families, but we also have Americans who had no connection to Sunderland but who are now devoted and passionate about the club, and love learning about the club history.
The club have recognized NASA as an official supporters association, and this brings some benefits, such as tickets for games, or invitations to club functions, for example earlier this year some of us were invited to the British Embassy in DC to be present at the SAFC / DC United partnership launch.
There are meet ups for every game, all over North America and an AGM each year with guest speakers, our Life President, the great Richie Pitt joined us at last year’s meeting, whilst our guest this year was one of my favourite ever SAFC players, Stan Cummins.
Speaking personally though, the biggest benefit is the opportunity to be with fellow Sunderland supporters, to meet like minded people from all over North America. I’ve been to some great places and met some great people, people I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to meet. The 8-0 drubbing v Southampton epitomized it for me; a large group of us met in a pub in Santa Monica, California. Many of us hadn’t met each other before and we had to sit through that horrendous performance. Within minutes we were singing, dancing, and generally turning the place into a party. I met a lot of terrific people that weekend, and long may it continue.
Have you ever seen a Geordie on the moon…..?
Graeme W Beattie