Sunderland AFC fans' bus to Stadium of Light cancelled for first time in 24 years due to driver shortage
The Sunderland AFC Supporters Association’s Manchester Branch will not be providing transport to Saturday’s home game against Bolton Wanderers, due to a shortage of bus drivers.
This is the first time the group has not run a coach for a Saturday game at the Stadium of Light since the branch was formed 24 years ago.
Their journey usually starts in Manchester, making other pick-ups along the way at locations including Stockport and West Yorkshire.
The branch attaches no blame to the company they normally use, who have apologised and said they simply have no drivers.
Another 20 travel companies in the Manchester area have been contacted, but to no avail, even though Manchester United are at home the same day while Manchester City’s away fixture is televised.
One agency has quoted the branch a price for the trip to Sunderland which was more than four times the usual charge and simply unaffordable.
It means Sunderland supporters in the North West will now have to either make their own travel arrangements, or miss out on watching their team who are currently level on points with Wigan at the top of League One.
Dave Bowman, founder and former chairman of the Manchester branch, is very disappointed.
He said: “Since 1997 we’ve run a bus for each Saturday home game. It’s not the bus company’s fault. They were very apologetic and they tried to get another driver.
“They say the situation could get worse. It’s not a shortage of buses, it’s a shortage of drivers. Brexit has come up a lot in our conversations. HGV companies are offering drivers ‘golden hellos’. Then there’s covid as well.
“We had about 35 people booked on the bus. It’s usually more, but some people are still nervous about covid.
“We were given a quote from an agency. They were asking for £2,500. We normally pay £600, but it’s far too late now anyway. A few people will be making the journey by car, but I don’t know how many will go.”
“This could also affect days out at the races, school trips and so on.”
Sunderland’s next Saturday home game after Bolton is against Oxford United on October 9.