Fans are red, white and proud to see plans to turn a landmark building in the city into a museum dedicated to their team.
Monkwearmouth Station Museum’s future was cast into doubt when Sunderland City Council said it was looking at alternative options for the North Bridge Street Museum due to falling visitor numbers and cash cuts.
Now preparations are being made to turn its exhibitions on trains into items relating to the history of Sunderland AFC’s team after it was confirmed it will become home to a museum of artefacts relating to the side’s contribution to the Beautiful Game.
The railway museum is expected to close to visitors at the end of this month, with the clearance and relocation of its items to take up to eight weeks.
Michael Ganley, who owns a collection of shirts, tickets, balls, trophies and medals amassed over 30 years, hopes to sign the lease and his team will then begin work to transform it into a new visitor attraction, which could include items donated by fellow fans once displays are collated.
He says the feedback from people since the announcement was made earlier this week has been “fantastic.”
It will be sad to see the railway museum close, but I think Michael is going to make one heck of a job of it, and he must have the heart the size of the town hall clock.Ken Barker
He added: “They’re all amazed at the building we’ve acquired.
“If people feel like they have something that could be displayed, we can look at it, and we’re looking for support by sponsorship and companies as we seek funding in the long term.”
Garry Stout is the education officer for the museum, which has already put on displays at venues including The Bridges.
In addition to creating a permanent home for the display, there are plans to continue its work with schools, using the collection to inspire as it boosts literacy and numeracy skills, particularly with years 5 to 8.
He said: “We want to hear from teachers, who can contact us through the Facebook page, if they would like us to work with them.
“People have said they are delighted about the news and want to see it happen as soon as possible.
“It’s been difficult for quite a time because I knew where it was going to be, but I couldn’t even tell my mam and dad.
“People are overjoyed and excited and think it will be fantastic.”
Among those to voice their backing for the project is the Sunderland AFC Senior Supporters’ Association.
It has 165 members and meets once a month on the first Tuesday of the month in the Stadium of Light’s Riverside Suite.
That is with the exception of next month, when it will gather on April 11, rather than clash with the away fixture at Leicester City, as the group is looking forward to a meeting with the club’s chief executive Martin Bain.
The association’s chairman Ken Barker said: “When I first heard about it, I thought it would be an excellent venue.
“It will be sad to see the railway museum close, but I think Michael is going to make one heck of a job of it, and he must have the heart the size of the town hall clock.
“I think he will make it a real success.”
Also backing the idea is Doreen Fowler, 86, from Fulwell who has a vested interest in championing the club’s history - her grandson is ex-Sunderland player Michael Gray.
Doreen, whose great-grandson Jordan Richards plays for Hartlepool United, said: “I think it’s a great idea.
“I hope Michael appears in it somewhere and I hope it will be well supported.
“It will be good for the city and I’m looking forward to seeing it open.”
George Forster, chairman of Sunderland AFC Supporters’ Association, plans to loan items to the museum including an item which commemorates the 1971 Sanson Sunderland Youth Team’s win in an Italian competition and 80 pennants.
He said: “I am absolutely delighted.
“I hope it is going to be well attended.
“I’m loaning these items because it’s better than them being stuffed in a plastic bag or hidden away.
“It will be good to see them on show.”
Steve Dean is secretary of the SAFC Branch Liaison Council and the Jarrow Branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association.
“The Fans’ Museum is unique, with nothing quite like it in the world of football.
“It’s great that fans are encouraged to wear shirts, hold medals and just have a really good time.
“The work Michael and his staff are doing with the youngsters in the schools and the elderly in hospitals and care homes, along with all community groups and the general public should be something Sunderland Club should be proud to be associated with.”
The museum will feature a section dedicated to the Sunderland Echo and its coverage of the club over the years.
The team are also working in association with Beamish Museum, the University of Sunderland, the UK City of Culture Bid, the Tall Ships Races, Tyne and Wear Fire brigade and the Prince’s Trust.
Once the plans are confirmed, it is expected the football museum will work closely with staff at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.