By Hugo Harris
The Durham University Football Supporters Society (DUFSS) appears to be going from strength to strength as over 200 of its members descended on the Stadium of Light last week to watch Sunderland take on Arsenal.
DUFSS President, Richard Burn, spoke to Palatinate before the game about the society’s short but successful history; earlier this year it won ‘Student Group of the Year’ at Durham’s Annual Students’ Union Awards: “The DUFSS was only founded in 2013 but it has grown rapidly ever since. It was set up because no student should live in the northeast for three or more years without witnessing what is the raison d’être for a lot of people living in the region. Our main mission is to allow students, regardless of their background, get exposure to northeast football and to bring together football fans.”
For Sunderland fans and locals, it can’t have been the most pleasing of encounters though. Arsenal, in the end won out, comfortably defeating the Black Cats 4-1. Nevertheless, for the Durham students present, most of whom seemed to herald from all different parts of the country, the match made for a raucous, highly entertaining afternoon.
It was an early start for those still nursing post-Friday night hangovers. At 10:30, four coaches parked themselves up next to the DSU building to whisk away the gaggle of students outside. Dropped a 10 minutes-walk from the region’s second largest stadium, everyone then proceeded to drift towards Sunderland’s home, taking in the atmosphere as they went.
Most people found themselves sat in the Carling Stand, the northern part of the Stadium of Light that also houses the visiting fans. The mood around this corner of stands was quite subdued during the pre-match warm-up, despite the best efforts of the stadium announcer. Clearly Sunderland’s position at the bottom of the Premier League hadn’t only had a languishing effect on its players, but also its fans.
The sobriety of the occasion was only heightened by the Remembrance Day rituals that accompanied the game. Soldiers paraded around the stadium, albeit this seemed very much at odds with the music blasting out from the loudspeakers.
It did not take long though for the Sunderland supporters to get riled up by events on the pitch though. Alexis Sanchez terrorised the defence of David Moyes’ team and also participated in some of football’s ‘dark arts’, certainly taking his time to recover from a fall. Half-time and the score was 1-0 to the Gunners.
In terms of quality, not much changed in the second half. Arsenal were by far and away the better team, ratcheting up their intensity when it mattered. There was cause for celebration for the home supporters; Jermaine Defoe slammed home an equaliser from the penalty spot and the Arsenal fans amongst the DUFSS contingent had to do their best to hide their despair. But a quick brace from substitute Olivier Giroud, quashed any burgeoning hope amongst the Sunderland faithful.
Speaking to Palatinate after the match Richard Burn was, understandably, a touch downbeat: “Well, as a Sunderland fan, I wasn’t too happy with the result! However, there was a brilliant atmosphere amongst our members and it was great for them to be immersed in a full-blooded North-East experience, particularly hearing the renowned ‘Roker Roar’ when Sunderland scored at the end we were sitting in. I’m hoping that a lot of our members will have been convinced to return to the Stadium of Light.”