They really did used to build boats on the river. Great big ships more to the point. Put together from various parts, factories lined the river bringing the various bits to the central yard where towering vessels and were put together. These days that industry has, as we know we’ll know, been decimated. The yards and factories have moved out and some of them are occupied by entirely new industries. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could reconnect those businesses to the heartbeat of the city. The football club.
This tale begins amid dereliction of a more emotional and spiritual type though. With Sunderland in massive decline, an errant owner in self imposed exile and a pantomime villain seemingly presiding over a spell where the football club were either about to slip into obscurity or potentially worse. The big club with the parachute payments had been frugal to the point of wartime rationing in terms of investing in players. Well you know all about those times. However, something needed to happen. Red and White Army we’re not set up as an action group per se. They were established to provide a voice and representation to fans. They were attempting to remind the club that the fans were the only thing propping the club up on its shaken foundations. I asked Dave Rose what it was like in the early days of RAWA “After launching RAWA into choppy waters the first 10 months or so was a grind. We toiled to establish it and try to get a bit of credibility with supporters whilst striving to get some transparency from an absent owner.”
A petition was launched with predictable results. What is perhaps a co-incidence is the timing of the announcement Ellis Short made in terms of selling the club which came out on the same day that the petition results were announced. Since that day we have all been on a bit of a rollercoaster with new ownership, a new team and the return of that unfamiliar winning feeling. How has that change affected RAWA? “Since the new owners came it's not quite as essential to be a conduit for communicatuon as they have been very transparent. Not perfect but certainly very open with supporters and very good in terms of liaising with RAWA. They also came to RAWA from day one and met us on equal terms. So the last 10 months have allowed us to be progressive. Suveys of supporters, running a vote to rename the south stand, fund a mural and of course raise 10k for a visual upgrade on the terraces. And then there’s Wembley. “
This is where we return to those shipyards and the connections. One of those factories is now a specialist printers. The factory used to make funnels for ships and Doxford engines. It’s also owned and run by relatives of a former Sunderland player famous for his sleeves. RAWA started a crowdfunding campaign for a flag. A really big flag. A surfer that we could send over the crowd before games. This was part of the ambition to bring the fans in as part of the character of the Stadium of Light. ALS helped to bring in a £5,000 donation from a local businessman and things started to happen. Although it’s fair to say they have happened quicker than we expected.
“When we got to Wembley we decided to speed up the production of the main surfer flag for the Roker End. So when it's unveiled on Sunday (with the help of lots of RAWA volunteers) it will represent a milestone in a journey for us. For many it will be an incidental splash of colour amongst the Wembley backdrop. For those that have worked so hard behind the scenes it's not just a flag, it's a symbol of sorts and a reminder that things can always get better.”
From the river where they used to build the boats comes a flag which represents the spirit of Sunderland fans coming together. It represents a breakthrough in our connection to the club. As the players walk out at Wembley RAWA are calling for all those at Wembley to hold their scarves above their heads. A traditional salute from a traditional club.
So what does the flag look like I asked, knowing full well that I wasn’t going to get an answer “You’ll have to wait until Sunday like everyone else! It’s big. It’s 25m x 15m which is the same size as a school baths. There is a nod to tradition though and that will please so many people”
Fly it high lads. That flag is ours.