Traditionally, football was referred to as the beautiful game. There are a number of reasons for this, at its simplest level there is little, or no specialist equipment required to participate as long as you have a patch of land, a couple of jumpers and something vaguely resembling the ball, you’re good to go.
As the sport gained popularity throughout Britain it was a symbol of working class power and gave young lads from such communities an opportunity to lose their chains and express their creativity through sport. For me, however, the real beauty of football is its power to generate irrational, emotionally charged feelings that few people can express or even experience on a day to day basis.
I was reminded of this as I walked away from the stadium shortly after full time to meet my mates in the town for much needed celebratory pints. It was hard not to feel a little bit emotional at my surroundings, kids with mams and dads were enthusiastically discussing the game and talking about the scenes that greeted Lynden Gooch’s winner with a look of sheer awe in their eyes; people around my age range were planning their night out and many phone calls were being made to their partners to inform them that their chances of being home for tea or even at all in the near future were extremely slim!
Add in the backdrop of the sunshine, a sea of red and white shirts and smiling faces and it was almost symbolic of the new era we had entered over the summer.
At this point, I’m sure many of you are sitting with bemused expressions saying, ‘Ha’way Micky, we only beat Charlton man’, but yesterday was about so much more than three points, it was about feeling as if I had my club back.
To understand what Saturday meant, you have to remember that we had won just six home games out of our last 42 attempts in the league, one of those victories occurred after we had mathematically been relegated. But what the stats don’t tell you is the affect it has on the matchday experience, last season city centre bars were dreary and virtually empty on matchdays in comparison to when we were in the Premier League. Those who did take advantage of reduced queuing times had to drag themselves from the bar, to endure another soul destroying 90 minutes, something that had been a love for all of our lives became a chore and it felt like we were in a state of purgatory
Contrast this to yesterday, when me and the lads I met up with before the match couldn’t find an unoccupied table to sample a much-needed pre-match breakfast ahead the day’s alcohol consumption. When we enquired at the bar, they stated that there was a 40-minute wait if you were wanting food. There was a hubbub of anticipation; and rather than apathy or downright depression people were enthusiastically predicting the starting line-up, buzzing about the potential atmosphere and excitedly discussing the unknown quantity of the new signings.
As we stood sampling the pre-match atmosphere I received a photo of owner Stewart Donald and Juan Satori having a kick about with some kids in the Fanzone. Compare this to the closed shop style operation we’ve put up with for so long and it was like a breath of fresh air. The only time we ever heard from Ellis Short and Martin Bain it was like listening to a politician trying to tell us that rationing, and austerity is actually what we need.
We were rarely talked up as a club, and as fans we were treated as little more than a nuisance who must know their place, be good boys and girls and just buy replica shirts and use meaningless hashtags on social media. Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven couldn’t be more different, from day one they have made it clear how central we are to the development of the club and their awareness of how to reach out to supporters saw over 31,000 fans turn up for a League One fixture.
Then came the match itself and the vibe was totally different, even when we went a goal behind there was a large roar of encouragement and the supporters stuck with the lads throughout. When we scored the late winner there was an outpouring of emotion that I haven’t seen in a long time it was as if that reaction was a statement of defiance. It was a message to all those who have sneered at us over the past few years, it was saying a massive ‘up yours’ to David Moyes, Martin Bain, Ellis Short and anyone else who ran our club into the ground.
As the players applauded the fans at the end and the whole ground stayed behind to sing their hearts out I felt a strong sense that this is a new Sunderland and more importantly it is my Sunderland and the Sunderland I fell in love with! As I stated earlier we can sometimes feel detached from the modern game, but Saturday’s game proved that football isn’t about balance sheets or net spends, it’s about 31,000 going bezerk as a young adopted Mackem who came through our youth team won the game for us in the dying seconds.