Come one come all and gather round to feast your eyes on our latest feature, Tales from the stands: a collection of fans’ favourite moments watching The Lads over the years. Today we’re recounting a baptism of fire for fans from across the globe on a Tuesday night in London.
My decision trade the famous cultural hub of Hendon for Swansea University presented many problems – the main one being a lack of opportunity to watch my beloved Sunderland. A hard challenge as I’d had a season ticket for years and obsessed over my heroes since I was a young lad.
Fortunately, a glorious red and white opportunity presented itself to me when Gus Poyet’s men were due to travel to Craven Cottage to face Fulham in the fourth round of the FA Cup in February 2015.
I organised travel from Swansea on the National Express bus and managed to get my hands on some student tickets, all in all the trip was only going to cost around £30. How wrong I was, but I’ll get to that issue later.
I persuaded six of my uni mates to turn out for what I promised would be a footballing feast for the ages.
Joe – a Reading native and Chelsea supporter. Zak – an Arsenal fan born in the south. Alex – a Yorkshire Gooner. Taylor – an American who’d taken to supporting Swansea. Kev – another American with a passion for Arsenal. And finally, Joel – a third Yank with no allegiance.
I’d organised for the travelling party to meet up with my one of my best friends from back home, Rob. Rob’s a London-based Sunderland lad but supports Arsenal, owing to the influence of his much loved and widely respected late Father, George Dagg. However, Sunderland are very much his second team and occupy a special place in his heart.
I was eager to share the Sunderland away day culture with my mates in order to prove my claims that my club had the most passionate fans in the country despite being, for the most part, positively shite.
Sunderland – both the place and the club – form the key cornerstone of my identity and I wanted my mates to witness other Mackems having talked the area, the club and its fans up to them at every available opportunity.
The coach journey was uneventful by away day standards, most of the lads tried to squeeze a nap in while occasionally turning to look on in horror as I threw shots of straight vodka down my neck to ‘sharpen up.’
We arrived in London, met Rob and proceeded a Weatherspoon’s near the ground called The Rocket in search of alcohol.
The Yanks & Southerners were immediately struck by the friendliness of the good-humoured Sunderland fans and were surprised that many in the pub knew each other or at least exhibited a nod and a smile in recognition of one another. Quite the culture shock for them.
After several pints we stumbled over to a picturesque Craven Cottage, the game kicked off and Sunderland started well only to go a goal down against the run of play. Where have we heard that one before?
I started to doubt myself. What If I’d just dragged my mates to watch Sunderland lose to a Championship team in the freezing cold? Especially given that I’d talked the experience up? This had the potential to put a dampener on everything.
However, a comical Fulham own-goal levelled the scores before Ricky Alvarez, in his only meaningful contribution to the club, fired Sunderland into the lead with a screamer, causing limbs to fly.
A Jordi Gomez penalty at the death sealed it for the lads and sent the 2,500 strong away end into sheer delirium.
Joel was so impressed that he demanded I source him a ticket for the upcoming Swansea v Sunderland game. A request to which I happily obliged.
I’ll leave it to Joel in his WordPress blog written in the days after the game to sum up the experience:
My British roommate James is a die-hard Sunderland football fanatic. James got me and six other guys together to go see a “real” football game against Fulham in London on a Tuesday night. That’s a 10-hour bus ride round trip from Swansea, and the game didn’t start until 7:45pm.
But my god was it worth it. The away section was fully packed with Sunderland fans who not once sat down the entire game and shouted obscenities at the Fulham section as if they had just insulted every Sunderland fan’s mother. Nearly every fan had to drive eight hours away from home just to see this game. On a TUESDAY NIGHT. Now that is dedication to your team.
Each goal had the packed away section jumping over each other in pure ecstatic joy. James stayed in London that night because he was alive with invincible energy after his team had won. The rest of us journeyed our way home on the worst bus ride I hope to ever be on. A five-hour ride that started at 1AM. Absolute hell. Was it worth it?
Mission accomplished? I think so.