Charlie Methven and Durham Miners Association explain why Sunderland partnership is so important ahead of Portsmouth parade

Charlie Methven with Alan Mardghum (left) and Dave Anderson (right)
Charlie Methven with Alan Mardghum (left) and Dave Anderson (right)
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First and foremost, it’s about winning three crucial points.

For Alan Mardghum, though, Saturday will stand for so much more.

President of the Durham Miners’ association, Alan worked for 16 years in the Monkwearmouth pit where the Stadium of Light now proudly stands.

He remembers the shock at first hearing that one of the region’s great industrial sites would become the new home of Sunderland AFC all the way back in 1993.

Tomorrow, it plays host to one of the biggest games in the club’s recent history.

Mardghum won’t enjoy it. Like every other fan, there will be far too many nerves and far too much tension for that.

But it will be a proud day.

A new partnership between the club and the association will be celebrated.

Banners from across the region are to be paraded before the game, while the colliery band will play in the fan zone pre-match.

It is a fitting tribute to Wearside’s industrial past and above all else, will give a new generation the chance to connect with their heritage.

“I do reflect on [the site's past] because there are lots of others lads and lasses who come to games who were miners or wives and daughters of miners,” Mardghum says.

“My sister and daughter have got season cards too.

“There’s loads of lads I see who worked in various pits in Durham and I see them when I’m having a pint beforehand.

“You do reflect on it but my first thought when I come to the stadium now is that I want three points, I want promotion. A few years ago it might have been about getting into Europe. All those emotions go through my mind but when the music starts and the players come out it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s absolutely tremendous, a tremendous atmosphere.

“It will be emotional on Saturday because we’ll be remembering those who went before us, who built our union, built our organisation and Redhills [Miners’ hall] and supported this club through thick and thin.

“I hope we get three points because I’ll not enjoy the game!

“I never do until the final result,” he adds.

“In the halcyon days of Peter Reid when we finished seventh twice it was a case of, ‘We can beat anybody.’ We knew we were good enough and I enjoyed football for the first time in years.

“Normally it’s a promotion battle or a relegation battle and my stomach churns and I’m biting my nails. As soon as we’re 1-0 up I’m wishing they’d blow the (final) whistle!

“But as far as the response to the banners, that serves a couple of purposes. It highlights what we’re trying to do, and hopefully it will get younger people to think, ‘What’s that all about?’ and ask the questions. Then we’re there to answer.

“I see it as a fantastic opportunity to do all that, provide some spectacular entertainment and acknowledge the football club, I think that’s important.”

Linking the past with the present is a key part of what the association stands for now.

The partnership with Sunderland AFC sees the club become an official ‘marra’ of the annual Durham Miners’ Gala.

It will also back the Redhills appeal, to help secure its future as a centre of education and culture.

“What strikes me when you first come into the stadium is the miner’s lamp,” Mardghum says.

“I’m not aware of that at any other football stadium. I’ve seen statues of legends and all the rest of it like we have with Bob Stokoe but we’ve also got the miner’s lamp.

“That’s a source of great pride because there’s a whole generation now that don’t understand that there used to be a pit here.

“People under the age of 25 weren’t even born when this was a working colliery and some of them aren’t aware there were shipyards on the Wear. I think it’s important we keep our industrial heritage, our political heritage, our trade union heritage. It’s important that’s reinforced all the time.

“From the miners’ point of view, that’s what the Durham Miners are trying to do now and also expand into the communities,” he adds.

“We’ve always been pretty good at that, as have the club, who have afforded us some great facilities to promote the work we want to do.

“We want to renovate Redhill, which is the miners’ offices. They’re absolutely magnificent and listed as one of the top 100 buildings in the country, including the Houses of Parliament.

“There’s a massive history and we want to renovate that and make it a community hub to promote our working-class culture, political culture and trade union culture and also the general community. That’s our game now, to promote it.”

Executive Director Charlie Methven has made reconnecting club with both the city and the county a key part of his work since arriving a year ago.

“It's a partnership,” he says.

“It's both organisations looking back together over our shared heritage.

“This Stadium was built on the last great pit in the North East and many of our fans or members of their family worked in the mines, both in County Durham and in Northumberland, where there has been a strong mining heritage and support base.

“It's recognising that history as part of our identity but also about looking forward to the next 10, 20, 30 years, as two institutions who need to be strong and relevant.

“It's not just about nostalgia, it's about strengthening both organisations. The Miners' Gala is one of the biggest events in England every year and their relevance in teaching children about their industrial past, the history and values that come from that, is really important.

“The restoration of the Redhills hall is a really worthy enterprise, and likewise I think they see our efforts to re-root Sunderland AFC in the community of County Durham as a worthwhile exercise,” he adds.

“We know we can help each other and that's why it is a true partnership.”

For Mardghum, Saturday will be a proud demonstration of how vibrant and popular the movement remains.

“We’re still here today, parading our banners, we’ve still got the biggest working-class gathering in Europe by way of the Gala every July,” he says.

“Our industry was smashed, it’s gone forever, but we have got a very, very rich history and that will continue. The Durham Miners’ Association is 150 years old this year - it started in 1869 through a strike at Wearmouth Colliery when they broke the bond to tie people to one employer – and we’re still there and we want to be here for the next 150 years.

“We want to support the community because they’ve always supported us and we’ll support the football club because they’ve supported us.

“We’re looking forward to a productive partnership.”

Three points wouldn’t go amiss, either.