When we looked at the fixture list in the summer and picked out Sunderland vs Fleetwood, we really didn’t expect to be sitting in an airport, considering how to make the best of a weekend in Amsterdam. Still, we found ourselves looking at a departure board in Oslo airport, where the ominous word ‘DELAYED’ was staring directly back at us. This wasn’t the worst of our luck. Even as we debated what to do if we missed our connecting flight from Schiphol to Newcastle, we had already paid the price for not asking the vital question for any long-distance trip to a football match. Namely, “Isn’t that international weekend?”
If you read the previous article on the ALS website, you may already have heard of us. We’re the Sagajordet Hellhounds, an amateur football team based in Drøbak, which is a few kilometres south of Oslo. There was a nice feature about us in ALS on 10th October, the day we arrived in Sunderland; yes, we made the connecting flight in the end.
If you want to learn more about us then have a look at the article, but here is a short summary: We play football very close to the site of the most famous Norwegian naval battle of World War II. When we were formed in 2011, our historical connections meant that we immediately declared ourselves to be the oldest club in the world. We also have a pub, the Hellhouse, where you can buy Hellhouse Ale. This is especially important, not only because beer is delicious and is one of the five major food groups (along with poppadoms, spare ribs, cake and gin), but it’s where we got a proper introduction to Sunderland AFC.
One of the lads suggested we watch the Sunderland ‘til We Die documentary on Netflix and, when we did, we loved it. After watching the series and sharing the drama – as well as the misery – we waited for the fixture list, picked out the Fleetwood game, booked flights and accommodation, then watched the whole thing unravel as Sunderland players were called up for international duty. By the time we reached Sunderland, the team were also without a manager and we briefly thought about keeping our distance before inflicting any more damage. In the end, we did what any self-respecting travellers would do if they found themselves in Sunderland on a Thursday night and got completely pissed.
Friday morning marked the real beginning of a fantastic weekend in Sunderland. Starting with a grand tour of formidable sights such as High Street West and Fawcett Street, we then meandered over the Wearmouth Bridge. Visiting the site of the old Roker Park was on the agenda but after being told that it’s now just a boring old housing estate, we decided to head into the Wheatsheaf to try and shake off our hangovers with beer. This worked reasonably well and follow-up coffees in the ALS Cafe finally fixed our heads, although not our stomachs. In a very formal and sober ceremony, we then presented the ALS team with a copy of Candidae, the club’s own magazine, signed by our club president, and signifying the unification of two new grand allies.
After ALS came the Stadium of Light. We’d arranged a tour of the stadium as part of our visit and, fortunately, it wasn’t called off, presumably because Jimmy Montgomery, who was leading the tour, hadn’t been called up for international duty. It was a great honour to meet Jimmy, who, as well as being a Sunderland legend, was a wonderful gentleman and it was a pleasure to hear about the club from a man of his knowledge and experience – at least during the times when our goalkeeper, Mats, wasn’t bothering him about goalkeeping strategy.
On leaving the SoL it was universally acknowledged to be time for more beer, as that’s what all Norwegians do at 4pm, we promise, and a sojourn around the pubs of Sunderland before hitting Mexico 70 for food. This place had been highly recommended to us and it didn’t disappoint. The food was excellent, the staff were amazing – as well as patient - and Neil, the manager, was absolutely on board with Mats’ unorthodox request on arrival: “Ten tequilas, ten Heinekens and you just keep bringing food out for us please. Oh, and ten margaritas too.” This set the tone for a delicious, if somewhat lively, meal before we sloped off back to the pub to watch the England game on TV.
The highlight of our tour came on the Saturday afternoon where there had previously been a blank space in our diary. Our contact in England had suggested we take in a Northern League game, and, as Sunderland RCA are nearby and also play in red and white, we made our way to Sunderland LGV Park for their fixture against Whitley Bay. When we arrived in Ryhope and made our way to the Guidepost pub, we were very warmly welcomed and we were surprised that so many people there had already learnt of our visit.
Sadly, Sunderland lost 6-2, but we were able to enjoy a fantastic atmosphere at the ground, where we enjoyed singing, drinking and being part of a great football setup. We also had the pleasure of meeting Andy Dawson, from the Athletico Mince podcast that none of us had ever heard of, and it was a pleasant surprise afterwards to see that we were featured in the BBC’s coverage of Non-League day.
All in all, we had a great time in Sunderland, even though the game we planned to see didn’t go ahead. It was touching to be able to get a flavour of the club we’ve all watched so closely from the Hellhouse; next time we’ll make sure there are no international fixtures and just wait for the game to be called off because of something like snow instead. Most importantly of all, we got to meet some very nice people and make some new friends. In that spirit, we’d like to issue an invitation to Sunderland RCA to attend our annual cup competition in Drøbak, in May next year. This invitation is also available to SAFC, but if they accept, we’ll be cancelling all their fixtures once they arrive in Norway.