It’s the 12th May 2016 and you’re nursing a hangover sent from Satan himself, but that doesn’t matter right now. You’ve got a spring in your step and despite the prospect of a long day at work, filled with excessive consumption of Lucozade, coffee and greasy food from the canteen, you couldn’t be happier.
The night before you watched Sunderland defeat Everton 3-0 and condemn Newcastle to trips to Burton and Rotherham. The atmosphere was electric, and you can still hear the booming rendition of ‘are you watching, Newcastle?!’ reverberate around the Stadium of Light. You can still see Big Sam Allardyce doing his Hulk Hogan impression in front of the South Stand to a hero’s reception. But as you continue on your way a weird looking man approaches you and says, ‘well, enjoy it while it lasts, bonny lad ‘cos in two years, you’ll be playing Accrington Stanley in a league fixture, suffered back to back relegations and be playing Charlton Athletic in the season’s opener. You’ll be buzzing for it though, trust me you will.’ Obviously, your initial reaction would have been to frog march him to your nearest hospital and declare the man to be of unsound mind. Either that, or you would simply throw him off the bridge and carry on with your day.
But football works in weird ways, and here we are beginning the season as a third-tier side, for only the second time in our 139-year history, but if truth be told I haven’t been more excited for the opening day of the season, since our first season back in the top flight under Roy Keane, more than 10 years ago.
Of course, it’s all about context and had Ellis Short remained as chairman there would not have been anywhere near the current levels of enthusiasm. It’s been fantastic to see the transparency of the new ownership and the way they have engaged the fanbase has been revelation. The signings we’ve brought in have been impressive for the level we are at, but we still haven’t kicked a competitive ball in anger.
It’s easy to forget this amongst the whirlwind changes that have occurred over the summer that we have suffered back to back relegations, have won just six league fixtures at home since August 2016 and have the worst record of all 92 Football League clubs over a 10-year period. I’ve not just dragged up those negative statistics to depress everyone, I’m just emphasising what beautifully insane people we all are. How many clubs could go through what we’ve gone through and still sell in excess of 22,000 season tickets and be expecting a crowd of 30,000 for a League One fixture? While our signings have been good, we haven’t gone out and spend millions of pounds on a pleather of new players, yet here we all are absolutely buzzing for the dawn of another new era.
This sums up the true spirit of Sunderland AFC, The City of Sunderland and the surrounding areas. True resilience is often born from adversity and that is exactly what we have demonstrated throughout our history as both people and football fans. The region has been constantly neglected by a succession of governments, many from outside the area sneer at the north east and look down their noses at us, but at heart we are furiously proud, down to earth people who make the most of what we have.
This is very much reflected in our attitudes to our football club, over the past season despite our troubles nobody fought our corner and we were left to do that for ourselves. National and even some regional outlets were quick to point their fingers at us and mock our attendances, they were quick to use us as a way of getting a cheap laugh and when we were relegated they were like crows picking at a piece of road kill.
But now we have the chance to reinvent ourselves and remember that we are a fantastic club and it doesn’t take much to get people back onside. Even though we haven’t kicked a ball yet, there’s been extraordinary levels of enthusiasm based on little more than faith and belief. This is our time to show that we are behind Jack Ross and the lads every step of the way and we can achieve something brilliant as we regrow the connection between the man on the street and the football club.
So, if you live locally and can afford to go, I urge you to buy a ticket and get yourself down and cheer the lads on to victory. If you are already going then get behind them from the first whistle, roar yourselves hoarse with every tackle and sing your hearts out. The last few years have been hell, but as we’ve proved on many occasions, we can come through adversity and when we have momentum, and everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet we can be an unstoppable force.
HA’WAY THE LADS!