RIP Tom Lynn – “A trailblazer and his work was a marker in time”

Most Sunderland fans my age would have become aware of Tom Lynn around the time the single Cheer Up Peter Reid was released, a tribute song to a manager of a team who I’m not sure were even top of the league at the time of its inception.

Will a song ever make if from a Roker Park terrace to the record shop ever again? Well, no, cos none of those things exist anymore but you get what I’m on about. It fell just short of making the top 40 from memory. At that time, I was a 15-year-old constantly desperate for Sunderland content, but this was 1996 and frankly there wasn’t much of it around. That single was a big deal. If you didn’t witness that Peter Reid uplift, it’s hard to put into words the impact it had over such a short period of time and this single reflected it perfectly. It was becoming fun supporting Sunderland and better times were on the way, as referenced in the song itself.

If you’ve seen the promotional shot of that record, Tommy is one of the lads donning sunglasses behind Reidy (second from the right). His name was already one SAFC content searchers were familiar with, due to his work in publications such as A Love Supreme. Around the same time, I would keenly read his weekly column, Touchline Tommy, in the free newspaper the Sunderland Star that was delivered, unsolicited, to every single household in the city. When people write things you agree with, it sticks with you and you relate to their work and to them, even if you don’t know them personally. I wanted my own article in the Sunderland Star, I always wanted a platform to talk about supporting the lads.

Skip a couple of years to when I was 18, I had traded going to away matches in my Dad’s car for the LadsLadsLads life on the Hetton/Sacriston hybrid minibus as one of four “townies” who dared to actually be from the city of Sunderland itself. My whole matchday experience changed forever. I was introduced to many well-known away day regulars by my brother, Paul, and Tom (also a townie) was one of those.

He edited his own fanzine by then, and as Sunderland had vacated Roker Park, I guess he didn’t feel the Roker Roar was a suitable name for it, so the Wearside Roar was born. I’m not sure the phrase ever caught on, Tommy, to be fair mate.

Two memories from that. The first was him writing a tribute to my match-going cousin Wayne, who sadly passed away when we were both just 20 years old. The second was from a train journey to Southampton where he had rummaged in his mate’s bag who was travelling to the match to be Samson the Cat (I’ve since learned this was Tony Davison). He gave the cat head to my brother to wear. He took a photo and put it in his magazine, captioning it Seaburn Catsual due to the Stone Island badge on display. Proper fan media and a proper bloke.

Then comes twenty or more years of drunken, embedded memories of gatherings in random cities and towns, living the highs and lows of following the lads. All-day sessions down in the capital are what spring to mind the most when I visualise the older memories in particular. 1999/00 and 2000/01 were golden seasons following Sunderland on the road, joyful drinking either side of joyful football, and if I was to sit and dig deep into my memory bank, and fuse old footage and images together, to play them over and over like an old movie, Tom would inevitably be there living his best life. It was rare we’d be on a train journey to and from London without seeing him and sharing some cans.

We even caught up and enjoyed pints abroad watching England play (well it wouldn’t be Sunderland in Europe would it).

When we started the podcast in 2013, access to SAFC related guests wasn’t as easy as is it is now. Richard Easterbrook was working as a journalist for the Northern Echo and happened to be a close friend of Gareth’s so that was an easy booking, but then my next go-to was Tom because of his background in fan media. He became a regular on the show and in the early pod days when I was a bit skint and car-less he’d drop me off afterwards as we lived close to one and other, often taking me for a pint in the Board Inn en-route so we could continue our discussion about all things Sunderland.

Any transfer or manager rumour would inevitably be followed by a message from Tom wanting to discuss it, and many, many opinions on certain owners were shared too.

Not long before the emergence of RAWA, there’d been a few unofficial meetings with the usual Sunderland gobshites (so me and Gareth firmly in attendance) and Tom was there as expected, offering me the usual lift home, pint in Board Inn etc. As we sat with him on the table upstairs in The Peacock (a place special to the pod) he introduced us to some meff he’d brought along with him. We’d never seen this person with Tom before but the four of us sat and enjoyed a pint and a laugh together. If you’re expecting some sort of reveal, you’re right, and you can therefore blame Tom for introducing us to Matt Keeling.

But to end on a serious note, we were all there that night because we weren’t happy with the downwards spiral the club was going on and, despite what some people think, the fans’ voice is important. Having fan media is important; from having just light-hearted crack, to holding people to account where others don’t, it’s all important and part of our culture. Touchline Tommy was a trailblazer and his work a marker in time for this sort of thing, certainly amongst the Sunderland supporting community. His platform inspired me and many others to get involved in it, so his influence can’t be downplayed. But above all he was just a sound lad who was great company over a pint.

It’s quite surreal that you aren’t gonna come over and talk to me in a pub ever again Tommy. I’ll miss you mate.