March 2nd, 2014 will always have a special place in the hearts of Sunderland fans everywhere. We may have lost the League Cup final to Manchester City but the entire weekend was absolutely incredible from start to finish.
On the eve of the match Sunderland supporters were appearing from everywhere as the day wore on. Regular commuters seemed bemused as hordes of our fans belted out a series of chants and danced about between tube stations. At times it was easy to forget that you were hundreds of miles away from home, and not in Sunderland hours after a derby day victory.
Upon arrival at Covent Garden it was like nothing I’ve ever witnessed. By the time we had got there, every off-license within two miles had been stripped bare of every alcoholic beverage that they had in stock and the party was in full swing.
Strangers embraced, drank and jumped all over singing Sunderland songs. Fans stood on top of phone boxes leading chants, all generations mingled and had a great time and there wasn’t a hint of bother all night. The scenes of celebration were such that you would be forgiven for thinking we had already won the cup final - it was quite simply a night where you felt immensely proud to support the lads.
On the day itself, we may have lost, but our fans and players were an absolute credit to the club and the region. To sum it up as briefly as possible, we did Wembley properly. The entire occasion was a celebration of everything Sunderland and for once we received national acclaim for all the right reasons.
This article is not intended to be a gushing, sycophantic throwback, Christ knows I’ve written plenty of those both at the time and in subsequent years, but the memories we all have are a timely reminder that this is a special football club and the good times will eventually come around again,
On social media I have seen Sunderland fans talk about little else but that night in Covent Garden. People who have claimed to have fallen out of love with the club were sharing memories and pining to be transported back in time. I’ve seen Borini’s goal and the wild scenes of joy which followed it countless times. Naturally, many are simply making the comparison between what we had then compared to now, but the one thing that seems to unite us all is nostalgia. Which, given our current situation is totally understandable, but consider this. Just a few short months before the Wembley experience, we were rock bottom of the league with a single point from our first 8 games. Phil Bardsley was an outcast and all hope seemed lost. Less than two months after the final all hope appeared to be lost again before we pulled off arguably the greatest escape the Premier League has ever seen.
We now look back on our regular escape acts with fondness and revel in our history making run of wins over Newcastle, but the reality is we were mostly awful throughout those seasons. When Roy Keane took over back in 2006, we were bottom of the Championship, but by the season’s end we were back where we belong.
My dad waxes lyrical about Dennis Smith coming into save the club by winning the third division and of Peter Reid turning the club around in the mid 90’s. But for those events to happen we had to go down to the third tier on one occasion and escape it by the skin of our teeth on the other. At the start of the 1972/73 the club and the region were both on their knees, crowds were down, and the team were languishing near the bottom of the old second division. Just six months or so later we had won the FA Cup and the hearts of the nation.
My point is, Sunderland are capable of surprising you when you least expect it. I’m not suggesting that to appreciate success we quite need to be put through such plummeting lows as we are right now, but we have been here before and emerged stronger in the years to come. When Chris Coleman took the job back in November, he stated the potential of the club as one of the reasons he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to manage here,, saying: “Someone’s going to turn this club around, whether it’s me, whether it’s the next one, sooner or later this club will start climbing again and start playing in front of a full house again and I hope we can get the city rocking and rolling.”
His words are spot on, things seem grim right now and I’m expecting a fair bit of ridicule for the insanely positive tone of this piece, but this will not go on forever. This time next season we could be climbing the Championship with fans behind Chris Coleman, or in the midst of a League One promotion push. Neither scenario sounds particularly thrilling and we could, of course be in an even worse state, but when Sunderland are performing on the pitch and showing fight with the city behind them, the momentum can be difficult to stop.
Therefore, that weekend at Wembley is a timely reminder of what a remarkable football club we are capable of being. So, pour yourself a drop of your favourite tipple, watch Borini’s goal, our great escape highlights, our goals from the six in a row sequence, the scenes from Covent Garden or whatever your favourite Sunderland moments happen to be. We may not turn around our fortunes today, tomorrow, or even next season, but at some point, we will and when we do there’s no reason why we can’t have days like 2nd March 2014 again.