Who do you support: what gives you the right?

Malcolm Dawson writes….Summer Madness is the retrospective spot where we republish articles from days gone by. Well it helps to fill in time whilst we wait for the start of the new season. Pete Sixsmith and I are off to Tow Law this afternoon where the Development squad take on the Lawyers in a pre-season friendly. Chris Waddle of course has played for both clubs but I doubt he’ll be there shouting “pelanty” every time a player goes down in or near the box! A match report will follow.

Meanwhile we go back half a decade to 2010 when M Salut asked the question “What gives you the right to support a team.” I have included the comments which were made at the time. Please feel free to add to those.

M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake
M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake

Like the look of Chelsea? Gasp in admiration at Man United’s trophy cupboard? Fine, then let’s become a supporter. We can always find out where the place is later. Colin Randall, conscious of his own origins as far due south of Wearside as is possible without falling into the sea, takes a whimsical look at the hoops we should expect to go through before being regarded as genuine supporters of our chosen clubs …

What are the tests a supporter should pass to qualify as a real fan of the team he or she follows, as opposed to a bandwagon jumper?

I have my own set of rules.

You are entitled to support Sunderland or Melchester Rovers or whoever IF one of the following applies:

1 You were born or brought up in Sunderland, Melchester or whatever, or their surrounding areas

2 They were the team your dad took you to see for your first professional league game

3 Your family’s roots are in the relevant area even though you were born and/or raised far away, even abroad

4 You formed a close bond through playing or otherwise working for the club, or in the town or city where it plays

Jake the rebel
Jake the rebel

You do NOT qualify IF:

1 You decided to support the club because it seemed to be very successful or had just won something important

2 You liked the club’s name

3 All the lads at school put club names in a hat and you had to promise to support the one you pulled out

That’s all dogmatic enough and I’m aware of another rule: the one about glasshouses and stone-throwing.

I believe I match up to my own demands on proper football support on rules 1-3 of eligibility. I was born far away from Sunderland – in Hove for heaven’s sake – but my family, which had many roots in the North East, Sunderland included, moved to Shildon, County Durham when I was a few months old.

Sunderland was always known as the County Durham team, whatever fiddling was later done with local authority boundaries to create Tyne and Wear. Quite simply, if you grew up in what I do not remember being called, in those days, The Land of the Prince Bishops, you supported SAFC and Durham County Cricket Club. Allowances were made if your bit of Durham was so close to Newcastle or Middlesbrough to make one of them the more obvious choice.

You could be much stricter than this, and some people are. They argue that the right to support a club is determined by one thing and one thing alone: place of birth.

But if you applied the letter of that law, it would exclude all sorts of people with long-established family traditions of support or strong links developed in one way or another with the club in question. In Sunderland’s case, it would disenfranchise thousands upon thousands of people who have, like me, always regarded the whole of County Durham as a legitimate catchment area. If only people born and bred in Sunderland were allowed to support the team, the attendances over the years would have been much lower.

Look at this girlhood memory of Kate Adie, from an interview for the Celebrity Supporters series that began life in the magazine of the SAFC Supporters’ Association London and SE branch.

“I remember thinking how curious it was as you got nearer the ground to see all these rather ancient buses full of supporters from Tow Law or Spennymoor or Crook. They seemed such far-off places. The small towns and pit villages were somehow seen as separate from Sunderland, and the one time that the divide was breached was at the match.”

Jake: 'how do I add Bob Dylan to Salut! Sunderland's Facebook group?'
Jake: ‘how do I add Bob Dylan to Salut! Sunderland’s Facebook group?’

I’ll go even further. Sir Tim Rice would expect to be disqualified under my ineligibility rule number two. He and his school pals were deciding who they should follow, and young Timothy liked the name of Sunderland. Yet no one could doubt that he has become an ardent and loyal fan.

Read the interview he gave me a few years ago and see if you agree:


Ineligibility rule one might also shunt Lance Hardy, author of the 1973 FA Cup final book, into the sidings of football support. At home in Nottinghamshire as a very young boy, he was placed in front of the television on May 5 of that year and told to shout for the Lads against Leeds. He has supported us passionately ever since.

So maybe my rules are not rules at all but guidelines. There has to be flexibility. What do others think?

You can learn more about the origins and depth of Lance’s allegiance to Sunderland AFC, and about his book, Stokoe, Sunderland and ‘73: The Story of the Greatest FA Cup Final Shock of All Time. when my interview with him is posted at Salut! Sunderland in the next few days.

Read the article here.a>

Join the Salut! Sunderland Facebook group – click anywhere along this line

And follow us on Twitter: @salutsunderland … click along this line

Click anywhere on this sentence for a glance at the home page – and highlights of all the most recent articles …

Jake flags the new feature allowing you to have your say on topic or off
Jake flags the new feature allowing you to have your say on topic or off
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12 thoughts on “Who do you support: what gives you the right?”

  1. I have to say that Colin’s rules are no less than perfect as criteria for eligibility, The exception of course are those examples of supporters who simply couldn’t be eligible. There are some of the best posts I’ve ever seen on this thread about that. Fantastic stuff.

    The truth is that any of our supporters have to be genuine, because nobody would “volunteer” to follow a club that is the antithesis of a glory hunter’s club.

    Colin’s rules are so good, simply because the overwhelming majority of our support conforms. There should be a clause for “special exceptions” of course, of which there are a great number.

  2. I can understand the rules but perverse as always it is nothing to do with the right.

    It was about the magic. Five years old, a mile walk, I thought it was much more, but my legs were only short. Today it would have been only a 3 minute drive but no one had a car.

    As we headed up Dykelands Road it was Granddad and Dad on either side talking above my head about the game to come, the road was empty. Gradually a few more people began to appear most in cloth caps and mufflers, some just in jacket some in overcoats all heading in the same direction.

    No team shirts, very little colour, it barely existed then, just post war, but smiles, a sense of excitement, people calling greetings, joshing each other. Always, always, the quick witted banter, sharp tongues, smiles and a growing sense of excitement. Still the crowds expanded at each road junction and the protection of my family closed around me. Granddad small built like a whippet with hair of white. stained with nicotine from working bent over his carpentry with a Capstan Full strength always in his lips. My dad a giant of a man, an honest, kind, intelligent, rock of a man who would help anyone. Who could feel afraid with them beside you?

    Down to the Roker End, what expletive does a five year old think as the cold wind hits his back. I don’t even know who I saw Sunderland Play I certainly only got fleeting glimpses of the game but the smells, the accents, the bonhomie and then that spine wrenching roar as we came close to the oppositions box and the ear bursting sound as we scored. To hell with the ball lets get on with the game. It was so much more than now. It was the very soul of the community melded by one club, poor and very poor people who lived for this one day a week when together they could roar to the world with their friends, we are live and it may be bloody hard but we love our life be we miners, shipyard workers, fishermen or rag and bone men. Together we can move the earth for we are Mackems but I doubt that word was used much if at all because then we and our neighbours were the heart of the North East.

    The walk back was different, my fear had gone, a thousand questions were aimed at my laughing kin and then the smell that has never left me, the pork butchers with hot pease pudding and pork or ham baps. I suddenly knew what heaven was and it began with Saturday and the football echo that always followed us around the world.

    Talk about a right to support the team I love I have no right not to. It would be a crime after that day. Yes I was carried that last quarter mile asleep in my dad’s arms and to my joy my own son who I never see is a Sunderland supporter.

    Too many people try to claim non existent rights you don’t need a right to love, it is something that you give freely.

    • Magic stuff AT. You are right – the memories are of the people, the place and the emotion rather than the goings on on the pitch.

      For me it is the smell of pipe smoke lingering in a sea fret, a pre match hot dog (a proper pork sausage not a frankfurter) bought from someone’s back yard in one of the terraces on the way to the ground. The sight of the floodlights penetrating the mist and the buzz of excitement as we got nearer.

      Then once in, steam rising from the thousands of damp bodies packed tightly together and the movement of the crowd carrying me along as the action unfolded.

      Then the walk back over the bridge to Park Lane to pick up a Pink for the bus ride back to Hetton and home for pikelets and a slice of dip (bread dipped in the meat juices from the joint roasted on a Saturday ready for Sunday dinner).

      Happy Days.

    • This will be re-posted as an article. Anything less would be an injustice . Magic, as Malcolm says

  3. I went to Sunderland as a student and stayed for a decade. One of the years I spent there was 1973. Anyone who experienced what happened in that year (I really did see grown men crying in the streets) couldn’t have failed to become a Sunderland fan.

    • As M Salut’s assistant deputy fill-in on the Durham Big meeting weekend, I think Mike has invoked clause 4.

  4. I agree with all the rules when applied to other clubs , especially nufc, but I find the rules petty and unecessary when applied to ourselves so we should be exempt .

  5. I used to be on one of those buses parked outside Roker Park, traveling from Stanhope in Weardale to watch games. Traveling games today is a little more difficult as I am now living on the west coast of Canada but I subscribe to all the football (soccer) TV channels & it is rare for me to miss a game. I have an autographed Sunderland football sitting in a glass case in my living room & have got some of the locals here watching for the Sunderland scores to keep up with my conversations.

  6. By coincidence, Andy at the Blackcats list wrote this today: (Back in 2010 MD)
    My dad was from Fence Houses (or is it Fencehouses?) and we emigrated when I was 4. I had no choice about who I supported and can remember being groomed in all things SAFC from about the age of 6. We used to listen in to the results on BBC World Service at 6pm every Sunday and the result dictated his mood for the remainder of the evening and next few days if it was particularly bad. Then, like all of us, the blind optimism gradually returned and he’d start looking forward to the next match. My uncle in Seaburn used to send the Pink every week and dad would read it cover to cover even though its news was by then a fortnight old! Amazing to think that a crackly radio, the odd letter and the Pink were the only sources of information in those days.
    You may recall a previous post of mine when I told of how we flew back to Heathrow in 68 and despite the jet lag, he insisted on taking me to my first match that afternoon. It was at Upton Park and we lost 8-0. He took me to Roker the following Tuesday when we beat Cov 3-0 and my faith was restored.

  7. (Originally posted 2010) Possibly a bit strict or lacking criteria! Not a bad set of rules but…
    if you were born in Sunderland or whatever and you have NEVER gone to a football match, do you actually qualify? I really doubt it.. definately many ladies never had the chance to watch a match in the earlier days, which actually excludes them, so really only one’s heart can really tell.
    I also think sir Rice can be considered an SAFC fan – no draw included, just name selection. There is nothing actually wrong with supporting a team because of an achievement. I sincerely believe it was totally different to todays “winners” followers to follow man utd ‘s busby babes or follow sunderland of the 1973 heroics, than waking up one morning and waring a chelsea strip because of Roman’s zillions. This is a basic reason i dislike chelski and real madrid. What is the actual comparisson of a 70?s man utd fan and one of today?
    I live in Greece, and have lived here since i was 5 years old, i know 2 Ipswich fans and 2 Nottingham forrest fans, can they be condemned for supporting a teamthat actually “won something” by the time they have kept up with the team since and followed them to the third division and back. I mean people who proudly put on a forrest strip so many years later and go out for the day, when today’s youth know nothing about the 1979-80 achievements. It seems a bit unfair to me.
    To put the record straight, i m’not saying all this to “protect” my own status. I was born in sunderland, my mothers side of the family is all sunderland born and raised and -greek football excluded- the first football i watched was a Sunderland under 19?s tournament in silksworth were we got battered by sporting lisbon or something in pouring rain and the second half 5-0 thrashing of oxford with a lovely Don Goodman hattrick during the 80?s.. i don’t even remember what division it was in but i was standing in the Roker end.
    I wept my eyes out at old trafford losing to milwall and for god’s sake i was 25 years old. Whoever you ask in England or greece will tell you “he’s sunderland mad”.
    But offcourse i ‘m not the subject, as I earlier mentioned.. only the heart can tell who you really support! Commercialising of modern day football has it’s own fashion victims, that’s a fact, but do not overexeed it by sending thousands of true fans down the drain with those victims.
    PS: Congrats on your blog, i really enjoy it
    PS2: Sorry if i write to big comments… can’t help it.

  8. I wish someone had told me when I first set foot in Roker Park, more than 52 years ago that I would/could never qualify as “a real fan” – it would have saved me a lot of heartache (and cash) over the years.

    I was born in Hampshire and moved to Newcastle aged 8, with my first venture to Roker when I was aged 14.

    Never mind though, I shall now cancel my TV subscription that allows me to watch every lad’s game, self flagellate with a wet flannel and come August 8th confine myself in a dark cupboard until the season finishes!

  9. (Originally posted 2010) Interesting blog. I think the beginning of supporting always has something mystic. It’s not as plain as “I live at this place, therefore I never thought of supporting any other than…” As Nick Hornby puts it: “I fell in love w/football as I would later fall in love w/women suddenly, uncritically, giving no thought to pain it would bring”. Though Hornby would have been “entitled” according to your para 2… – when falling in love nobody asks if he has the right to do so.

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