With the Sunderland Together: Wembley Virtual Tickets initiative really gathering pace now, we caught up with Peter Richardson, the man who came up with the idea…
Now then Peter. Most Sunderland fans will know about #SunderlandTogether but they may not know that you're the man behind it. How did it start, take off and get to where we are now? The initial response has been fantastic.
After watching the Papa John's semi-final against Lincoln there was that moment when the realisation that no fans would be at Wembley watching the lads hit home. Several months ago I tweeted 'How very Sunderland it would be to win at Wembley when there were no fans', we now have a chance to do just that. As I was sat watching the end-of-match celebrations I started to think about what could be done to make the final feel remotely special. As someone who has hundreds, if not thousands, of tickets I thought about the potential of the club selling tickets for the final as a keepsake, even though we couldn’t go. It sounds crazy, but I had a feeling if any set of supporters would get behind this, it would be ours. I put the idea on Ready To Go and on my social media feed, quickly it became apparent that this was something people would get on board with, especially with the money raised supporting local charities, charities which are at the front when it comes to the COVID response. The next day I spoke to someone from the ticket office and tweeted the liaison officer and it snowballed from there with the Red and White Army and the Foundation of Light taking it on, closely followed by many other people/groups. The amount raised so far, in a short space of time, is simply incredible. Who knows how far it can go?
Like most of us, you've had some painful trips to Wembley watching us. Isn't it cruel we've got the chance to end the jinx there, yet none of us will be there to see it?
Absolutely. It’s incredible to think we could win for the first time since 1973 and there will be no fans there to see it. As I said above though, it would be ‘very Sunderland’. Hopefully we will go there and win, the hoodoo will be over and we will go on to win a few games there over the coming years in ‘bigger’ competitions, no disrespect to Papa John...
As a teacher and a dad, how has lockdown been for you and your family? It must have been quite a challenge...
It has been crazy, as I'm sure it has for everyone reading this. Juggling work and home-schooling has been mad and I can’t wait for things to return to some form of normality. I’m looking forward to my home to becoming my home again, not my workplace. Hopefully the end is in sight and by August we could be back at the Stadium of Light cheering on the lads for real, instead of virtually.
You're a true fan of the game and recently you've got behind your local team, haven't you?
Yeah, we moved to a little town called Penistone when I was young. I did return to Sunderland to teach for a few years but in 2007 moved back down here. Penistone Church FC are an amazing community club who ply their trade in the NCEL Premier Division, four leagues below the National League. They have clubs for boys and girls all the way through the age groups too. Over the last decade the club has been transformed. Attendances are up into the high 200s for every game and some bigger matches attract more than 400. The manager and his assistant Ian and Duncan Richards, who incidentally are both PE teachers like the Cowley brothers, have done an amazing job and the quality of football seen there is superb. When I can’t make it to watch Sunderland I get down to the DSM Memorial ground to cheer them on. If any Mackems are ever in South Yorkshire on a matchday, get yourselves along. You’ll be impressed.
Plenty of us will have read your book 'Rejected' The book compiles the 93 letters you wrote to football clubs applying for the vacant managers job and the varied responses you received from the clubs. It sold out didn't it? Any more books in the pipeline?
Yeah, that brings back memories! It did quite well, had a few reprints but in the end I decided to stop printing it. It is still available on Amazon as an e-book but I can’t remember the last time a copy sold!! There aren’t any more in the pipeline just yet, I have a few ideas for when I do get a chance to sit down and write but at present it’s impossible to dedicate the time to another huge project like that.
Were you tempted to apply for the job after Phil Parkinson left?
Well, to be honest, looking back over recent appointments I’ve started to wonder why they never took a punt on me! Hopefully though, Lee Johnson is the man to get us back into the big-time, not just the Championship.
#SunderlandTogether is another example of the positivity creeping back into the place currently. How do you think things are going?
The key word is consistency. We appear to have found some, at present I think things are going really well and the positivity seems to be growing and growing. I’m delighted the club saw the ticket idea and took it up. This could help build bridges between the club and some parts of our fan base who have become disillusioned over recent years.
Finally, would you sign up to a play-off final place now - and another trip to Wembley - or do you still think automatic promotion can be achieved?
That’s a great question...no, I wouldn’t take a play-off final place. There seems to be some real momentum now and although we have a few points to make up I think between now and the end of the season we could sneak into the top two.