MINERS’ leader David Hopper hopes Sunderland AFC will lend support to a new anti-fascist campaign in the North-East.

Mr Hopper is general secretary of the Durham Miners Association (DMA), which oversees the rights of thousands of ex-pitmen in the region.

He has written to the club in the wake of the controversial appointment of new manager Paolo di Canio, following the sacking of Martin O’Neill.

The announcement of the ex-Swindon Town boss as manager led to the immediate resignation of non-executive Sunderland board member David Miliband, the ex-Labour Foreign Secretary and soon-to-stand down South Shields MP.

He was unhappy to remain at the club, due to the Italian’s former comments on fascism and his straight-armed scoring salute while with Rome club SS Lazio.

Although Mr di Canio refused to state he was no longer a fascist at his press conference following the appointment, the club subsequently issued a statement outlining that the new manager is not political, is not a racist and does not support the ideology of fascism.

Following last Wednesday’s statement Mr Hopper withdrew an immediate threat to remove a miners’ banner on display at the club’s Stadium of Light ground, built on the site of the former Wearmouth Colliery.

Association members have since met a club representative for “constructive talks” .

But in a letter from the DMA, issued by its executive on Friday, the club is now urged to get behind the campaign.

“My concern is that football managers and, indeed players, are seen as role models,” said Mr Hopper.

“Football is a religion in the North-East. Nearly 100,000 people regularly attend matches at Sunderland and Newcastle.

“All this storm has blown up at a time when far right groups are encouraging people onto the streets with their views.

“It’s a difficult time for our young people and I’m very worried about what this activity will bring.

“We’ve accepted the club’s statement on face value, but we’re now asking the club to be a catalyst in the fight against racism.

“The club has a tremendous record in the community with its youth academy and foundation. It’s a massive institution in the city.

“My hope is that the club comes on board and this whole matter is put to bed.”

The club has not commented on the latest move by the DMA.