MANCHESTER BLACK CATS



We all know an exile or two, Sunderland fans who have moved away from Wearside and its surroundings for work, education, family reasons, or lurve (oh, yes, it does happen), and decided to make their home wherever they landed.

One such fan is Andy Smith, now of Manchester, and he’s taken his love of the Lads into his organisation of his son’s football team.

Prestwich Marauders FC was formed in 1972 to provide football, primarily for young boys from the Prestwich and Whitefield area of Manchester. Today the Marauders have over 200 members, both boys and girls, aged between 5 and 16, drawn from well beyond Prestwich and Whitefield. The Marauder’s club badge is the Prestwich coat of arms, which bears the motto RECTE FAC NOLI TIMERE = do right, fear not – one that Sunderland would do well to follow.

Among the Tigers, Warriors, Hawks, Raptors, Pythons, Lions, Pumas, Bears, and Raiders you’ll find the Black Cats, co-managed by Nathan Forgione and Andy Smith. They play in the East Manchester Junior Football League on Sunday mornings at Tameside Stadium, and train at 6pm in Prestwich on Wednesday nights.

They represent school year 2 (that’s seven-year-olds) and, as the name Black Cats suggests, that’s where Sunderland come in. They are a team newly formed for the 2020/21 season, with a number of the boys previously having played in the development class, which is the team for the youngest players, and Andy was quick to offer his services as joint manager – so we’ll let him take up his story.

"I was born in South Shields and lived in Fulwell and Cleadon before moving to York when I was ten. I then had a couple of years in Belgium, a few in Leeds for university, and have been settled in Manchester for the last ten years. I remember first going to the match in about 1990, but started going regularly from 1992. I remember the Cup final in 1992 well, but the 1992/93 season was the first that I attended regularly. Don Goodman was probably my favourite player then, and I remember Micky Gray scoring when he made his first start, if my memory serves me rightly. The first player that I really loved was Martin Smith, I thought he was brilliant, and I had 'Smith 22' on the back of my shirt. My Dad took me to St James Park to watch him on his debut for England Under 21s, I forget the year, but I remember it was midweek and I really cheered when he came on as a sub. We got a bit of grief from the locals!

I loved playing football as a kid and played to a reasonable standard, but like a lot of people my age, a combination of injuries and other distractions probably meant I didn't play to as a high a standard as I could have. I stopped playing in my mid 20s as I kept getting injured.

It's been an absolute rollercoaster supporting the Lads over the years, with so many highs and so many lows. The high point for me was the Reidy years. I loved Allan Johnston and that whole team. My fondest memories, though, are probably the Roker Park days with my Dad, we started on the Fulwell End, and then moved to the Paddock. It always seemed to be freezing, and I'd take a little stool in to get better view. Magical times, and that’s when I really got the bug for it.

I was lucky when we moved away because my Dad got me back as often as he could. I played a lot as well, so we were also working around that. I remember him getting in from work early for a midweek game against Reading at the SoL when I'm sure there were 40k there. The SOL felt like a fortress in those days and was really something to be proud of.

With living away for my teenage years, I didn't have mates in the area when I moved back to the UK for university in Leeds. I started going as often as I could in my first year and remember coming back from the semi-final defeat by Millwall on my own very despondent. I never did like Dennis Wise anyway, and that game confirmed that my dislike was justified. I started meeting Sunderland fans in my first year at uni, and after the Crystal Palace play-off defeat, got stuck in Newcastle station for hours due to the extra time and penalties. I started talking to another lad who I recognised from the games, who was making the same journey home to Leeds, and from there started making a good network of other Sunderland fans. This was great for me as I got a season ticket and started going everywhere watching us.

The Roy Keane promotion season was amazing. From starting the season to thinking we could go down, to thinking mid table, maybe play-offs, automatic would be nice, then winning the league. The Burnley game at home on the Friday night, Barnsley and Sheff Wed away stand out as highlights that season.

When I moved to Manchester ten years ago, I continued going, but probably a bit less to begin with due to work and other commitments. I discovered the Greater Manchester Supporters' Branch, who do a great job for fans in this area, and that made travelling easier.

I am probably fortunate that I don't have to walk into work and talk in detail about a defeat or get goaded by Newcastle fans like fans in North East do. I do miss being in the area after we win though, as I appreciate how much it means to everyone.

My son is six, and I always wanted him to play football. I tried hard not to push it too much, but thankfully he's always enjoyed it. He was born a few days before the League Cup final against Man 'Citeh'. The semi final was an amazing night, but I didn't go to the final, but I watched it with him on my knee only a few days old. Catch them young!

His First game was Bury away in pre-season a three years ago, and his first 'proper' game was the first game of the season against Charlton a couple of years back. He was only four but loved it. We went up with my Dad and having three generations at one match is something I will never forget. I started taking him every now and then after that, but earlier last season we started going more regularly which he was really enjoying, and he particularly likes Max Power and Charlie Wyke.

I took him to Accrington away last season which I was a bit cautious about, with it being an away game, but he loved it.I know this will get harder as he gets older with the influence of Man City and Man United fans at school, but he wears his Sunderland kits very proudly at the moment, and I remind him of the importance of supporting the club his Dad, Granddad and Great Granddad did.

The stopping of the season has been hard to explain to him, and he asked the other day when we would be going to the match again but I told him I didn't know, but it would be as soon as we could. He just loves the whole day out!

My son has done various football things since being quite small, and I started taking him to the development class at the well established Prestwich Marauders club when he was four. When they asked for volunteers to help out, I was happy to volunteer, but didn’t expect to do anymore than help out. As we needed to form a team I realised that I was really enjoying organising things and took on managing the team with someone else. We started gaining a little momentum but due to the pandemic everything went on hold. When we could start again I had to learn a lot quickly and started organising friendlies, referees, and pitches, plus kits for the team and everything else. It takes a lot of commitment and time but is incredibly rewarding.

Since getting involved with the Marauders, I've learnt an enormous amount about grass roots football. Using Facebook groups to ask other clubs to play friendlies and then sort our referees and pitches has taken far more organising than I ever thought it would. It's been a lot of fun, though, and we start playing in the East Manchester Junior Football League in September. I was really keen to play at a central venue as pitches and referees are all taken care of and I think it's a lot better for the kids development to play on AstroTurf. With the English weather there is also a lot less chance of games being called off through the winter.

The name Black Cats is something I am really proud of, although I’m not sure all of the team understand it, with us being a League One team these days, but I will make sure they do through the season.The co-manager doesn't mind the team name. He is a Man United fan, but doesn't give me too much grief, and there have been no complaints from the parents yet either. Sadly, the Black Cats’ permanent kit won’t be Sunderland colours, because the club has been established since 1972 and has a standard black and blue striped shirt- which I really like anyway, so no problems there. As with any such sports club, money is always something that needs looking after, so we have to try to get sponsorship wherever we can."

You can find more about the Black Cats at http://www.prestwichmarauders.co.uk/teams/black-cats/and the East Manchester Junior League at https://www.emjfl.com/

If you’d like to get in touch about joining the team, or if you are interested in helping with sponsorship please get in touch with Andy on 07903354382.


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