It’s not often that I take very seriously the comments in the football section of the Sunday papers, as they’re generally either the “opinions” of an ex-pro who’s getting paid to churn out so many words a week, or the “opinions” of a journalist whose getting paid to catch the reader’s eye and hold them on that and the other sports pages. Basically, in most cases, it’s their job.
However, today (that’s the day following our comeback win at Wimbledon) the Sunday Mirror carried one of those little space-fillers that come at the bottom of Andy Dunn’s page – and it was in red and white, with a Sunderland crest on it.
Aye aye, what's this? League One getting a mention? That was my attention caught. I couldn’t barely care less about Mr Dunn’s thoughts on how bloated and unfair the Europa League is, or Pochettino’s potential team-talk ahead of the Spurs-Man U game, but if it concerns us, I’m all ears. Well, eyes, obviously, as it was in a newspaper. He reminded us that on December 16 last year, we notched our third league victory of the 2016-17 season.
Thoughtfully, he didn’t remind us how few more we manage last season but pointed out that we achieved the same feat this campaign on August 22. He also pointed out that it was at Gillingham on a Wednesday night, that it was a 600-mile, ten-hour, round trip, and that over 2,000 of us made that trip to roar the team to victory. We know that in reality, there were a fair few London-based fans amongst our number, but the majority had given up at least a day of their lives to make the trip. He tempered that with the information that we were then in the Championship and we’re now in League One. “But so what? Winning games and scoring goals is fun. Relegation – even to the third tier – is not the disaster it is cracked up to be.”
Wise words, Andy, and thank you for proving that it’s not just us Sunderland fans trying to justify our position when we said exactly the same thing – although some of us probably believed that is just what we’ve been doing. We’re well out of the rampant and institutionalised commercialism and ridiculously powerful agents of the Prem – but we want to get back, sharpish. Winning games, and scoring goals, is what football is, or should be, all about – and it’s what we’ve been doing for the first time in ages. One of the sad statistics that’s been hanging around our necks over the last few years has been how long it’s been since we came from behind to claim all three points.
That particular millstone has been removed in emphatic style. Of our four wins to date this season, three have been comebacks. The first came in super-dramatic fashion with Goochy’s injury-time header, the second thanks to a lightning-quick response to a very early setback brought a comprehensive reversal of fortunes, and the third, yesterday, a dogged response to a physical pummelling, and with two goals from Cattermole, wrote itself into recent club history. Three comeback wins of completely different styles, but all with great goals, clever football, and tactical flexibility when needed. We’ve travelled nearly 850 expectant miles to away games already and done the return 850 in celebratory mood. Fun indeed.
Of course, we’d already started to enjoy being a Sunderland fan again before a ball was kicked, thanks to the arrival and input of the Three Amigos: Stew, Charlie, and Juan. They made promises that they’ve kept, but did we honestly believe that they really would come for a pint with the travelling fans before games, thank us for our support as we boarded our coaches afterwards, or join us in the seats and sing along? Well, they’ve done that and more, and it certainly makes the matchday experience that bit more enjoyable – and different. It doesn’t happen in the Prem, but it happens at Sunderland and it adds another facet to our uniqueness. Which other club’s supporters could wander up to a pub before an away game and find one of the head honchos, complete with family and lucky socks, discussing tactics, plans, and performances with “ordinary” fans in the beer garden, while another does likewise indoors?
Only at Sunderland. They can still say that – but now it means something good.