Sunderland AFC supporters Heaven branch creates new Stadium of Light memorial garden with 'paint a pebble' message

A new garden to allow families and friends of Sunderland AFC fans who have passed away to ‘paint a pebble’ in memory their loved ones is to be created at the Stadium of Light.

The club supporters’ Heaven Branch allows people to enrol their late loved ones as members. The branch has already surpassed 1,100 members and is recognised as an official supporters’ branch like any other.

Now organisers Joanne Youngson and Billy Wright are launching a scheme which lets relatives decorate a pebble collected from local beaches which will then be placed in the new memorial garden close to the Stadium of Light’s main entrance.

Pebbles will be placed around the bronze Statue To The Fans, showing different generations of Sunderland fans coming together.

“It is a lovely gesture by the former players and the Foundation of Light has also provided a room for the Heaven Branch to use for the painting of the pebbles,” said Joanne.

“We have relatives of almost 60 members who will be painting pebbles as memorials to their relatives. The painting day is set for August 26 and the club’s chief operating officer Steve Davison is coming along to show his support while Washington Mind and the Branch Liaison council’s fans supporting fans mental health hub will also be in attendance.

“Steve will be painting a pebble in memory of his dad, who has been enrolled as a Heaven Branch member. Sunderland businessman David Newham has also got behind the day and is providing refreshments.”

Supporters will be attending from as far afield as Milton Keynes and Kent.

The new memorial garden will be based around the Statue to the Fans

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Supporter Frank Curry, of Brambledown Landscape Services and Shincliffe’s Poplar Tree Garden centre, is providing plants and gravel for the group to transform the area and Sunderland Former Players’ Association (SFPA) has paid for the acrylic paint pens for relatives to decorate pebbles.

SFPA secretary Phillip Crossley Lowes said the group was delighted to be involved, adding: “The initiative sounds really lovely and I am glad that the SFPA is actively involved.

“We’re very proud to be lending a helping hand in the remembrance of supporters who have passed on to the Heaven Branch and fully support its expansion over the coming years.”

Some pebbles decorated in memory of fans

Steve Davison said: “My first experience of football on Wearside was with family members who are sadly no longer with us.

"It is fitting that we now have a place to reflect and remember those closest to us, who followed the club with the pride, passion and love for SAFC – that we all share – throughout their lives.”

The Statue To The Fans is a particularly appropriate place for the new garden, with a plaque which reads: “All generations come together at the Stadium of Light. A love of ‘The Lads’ has bonded together supporters for more than 125 years and will for many more years in the future.

"At Sunderland it is this statue to the fans that has pride of place. Supporters who have passed away have their support carried on by today’s fans, just as the supporters of today will have their support continued through families and friends.

"We share this vision and bond as one because Sunderland AFC is For Us All.”