Way back in May, in a different SAFC world, before last season ended, ALS were approached by and met with prospective part-owner Charlie Methven. One of the questions he asked was what the club could do to make the fans happy.
Apart from the obvious “win games, show fight, sack Rodwell and Bain” we suggested resolving the issue of the pink seats. Personally, I didn’t really worry about the colour of the seats, as with bums on them, they couldn’t be seen, but many had made an issue of them, not least them up the road.
Charlie said that was something that could be sorted. Aye, right, we thought, let’s see what happens with that. Of course, he was true to his word and it’s coming towards the end of the process of being sorted. Much has been written about the campaign to get the fans to help, and I don’t think the new owners envisaged as much assistance being given.
Of course, being a bit daft (both a pre-requisite and a result of following the Lads) and despite a dodgy back, I volunteered to help, and so it was that I filled in the necessary on-line stuff and received a reply confirming that I was good to go. Basically, the club offered a series of time-slots, four hours apiece, across a week in September and we got to choose to attend as many or as few as we wanted.
So, it was that I found myself sitting in the SoL foyer at ten to eight in the morning, next to Porterfield’s Golden Boot (sadly not the Adidas Scorpion I’d lobbed onto the open-topped bus) looking at that git big painting of the old Villa game, with Bob Stokoe’s trilby, Mac, and tracky bottoms in the background. After the usual Health and Safety bumf, thirty-odd of us headed for the South East corner, and were asked “spanners or electric screwdriver?” Being of the slightly lazy persuasion, and unable to resist the lure of a power-tool, I opted for the latter, and so the fun began. Screwdrivers in reverse, half of us worked our way along the rows, working on the seat bases. Simple job, really – four screws came out, seat dropped lose, moved on to next seat, and every now and then we collected a few and piled them up at the bottom of the steps. Most were a piece of cake, a few had crossed threads and took a bit of shifting, but the biggest problem, if it can be called that, was the chut. Look, I know it has to go somewhere, but if you stick it over the screwhead, after a few years, it goes harder than a Joe Bolton tackle and takes a lot of effort to remove.
Anyway, once a section of a row was done, we reversed the screwdrivers and thus the process, fitting the new bases as such a rate of knots that the next lorryload of parts arrived just as we were running out. The other half, the folks doing the seat backs had a little tougher time, as they had to remove four bolts using a ratchet spanner and a “normal” one, but they cracked on and in what seemed like no time, rows were filled with sparkly new seats both red and white, and they did look pretty damn good. When proceedings were called to a halt after about three and a half hours graft (drinks were provided), we were told we could help ourselves to as many seats as we liked, then led to Quinn’s bar where we piled up those seats and were rewarded with a pint and burger and chips. Chatting amongst ourselves revealed that one lad had come up from Dorset to take part – and it was taking part, not just providing virtually free labour. It was all voluntary, and we all felt better for it, the odd skinned knuckle apart. We all felt that, although we were already part of Sunderland AFC, we’d shown the new owners how much we were part – not that we’d done it for that reason. We’d done it because we wanted to help make the club better, and to make the stadium look nicer.
Over the following weeks, more sessions took place, with several players including Catts, and owner Stewart Donald, joining in. I took a couple of seats home and upcycled my garden furniture. Someone saved parts for Enrico Milani of the Black Cats of Brescia, and these were given their own seat on the plane back to Italy, where they were converted by Gabriele into a barstool at the No Stress pub in Sarnico, which will be the HQ for the Sunderland fans’ party next summer (May 31st – June 3rd). I even felt the need to put in a second shift when the opportunity to change my own seat came along, by which time the ground was looking good, with the new seats stretching from South East to North West, which is where I live. It was all installation on this occasion, as the seats had been removed by the previous day’s working parties. I gave the spanners a go this time, got used to them pretty quickly, had the joy of installing spacers, and found twenty years’ worth of chut under one seat. I know where you sit, mate, and I’ll be down to have a word at the next home game.
As the “take whatever you want” was again offered, I had a rake about before beer and burger time, and, by some miracle, found the seats occupied by myself, our Ian, Poss, and their Kriss on day one. The one that’s been mine ever since. OK, I know it’s just a number, and they might be from a different row – but they just might be the actual seats, and that’s good enough for me. They’re awaiting conversion to something spectacular, and to act as a reminder of the time we helped make the Sol look a whole lot better. There are more sessions coming up, and I’ll be back – if you’re in two minds about taking part, make it one mind and get yourself along. You work at your own pace, you’re not asked to do anything you’re not comfortable with, you get a pint and a burger, and you’ll feel pretty good about yourself afterwards. You might be able to take your old seat home, but you definitely will be able to think and say, “I did that.”
As it says loud and proud in the North Stand – Ha’way the Lads.