Any football fan will tell you that ‘which team do you follow?’ is a dangerous question to ask.
It’s normally the follow up question that causes the big problems. ‘Why?’
There are some acceptable answers.
‘It’s where I’m from’
‘My Mam and Dad took me there for my first game’
‘I bought the club and realised that Oxford were rubbish’
And then there are the other answers. The ones that aren’t acceptable. And, if we’re honest, aren’t the real answers anyway. ‘I just loved the songs sung by the fans’, ‘I like watching good football’ and ‘I just loved watching Kenny Dalglish/Kevin Keegan/David Beckham’ all actually mean ‘I like teams that win and they do it more often than not’.
There are some clubs where you ask the second question with sympathy, wondering how the poor bastard ended up being lumbered with their life of misery.
Sunderland are on that list. A life of misery thrust on most of us because of family history or geography. It’s why, when I hear people talk about Sunderland glory supporters, it makes me laugh. Sunderland don’t have glory supporters. What kind of sick individual would, after the last ten years, view our path as glory?
What Sunderland have is loyal fans. Fans through thick and thin. Mainly thin.
Loyalty doesn’t necessarily mean turning up on a Saturday or owning the latest shirt or having the badge inked into your skin.
Not everyone goes every week, not everyone can, but they’re not going anywhere else. That’s the difference. That’s the loyalty. They’re not slipping off to buy an Aguero shirt and pledge their allegiance though Sky and BT Sport to their new club. They’ve not decided that Klopp’s cheeky positivity has moved them to Liverpool.
I don’t care if the crowd at the Stadium of Light is 27,000 or 47,000 (apart from the financial implications to the club). What matters is the commitment of that crowd to those players, willing them on to success and giving everything they’ve got.
The thing everyone is talking about from the first leg against Portsmouth (other than the goal) is the atmosphere. Many have said it was the best of the season despite being ¾ of some gates this year.
Would the atmosphere have been improved by an extra 5,000 fans wearing half and half scarves and wondering whether that Josh Maja lad would be playing? No.
Our attendance figures this season have been extraordinary but they’re a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands who’ll tell you they’re Sunderland fans all around the world. They don’t say it to be associated with glory and multiple title wins, they don’t say it because, as a kid they had a soft spot for Gary Owers, they say it because the club is in their blood and no amount of shit and misery will change that. They might not be in the ground every Saturday but they’re still fans, Sunderland ‘til they die.
You see, for Sunderland fans, the question is wrong. We don’t follow a football club.
We are the football club.
We are Sunderland. As much a part of the team as an actual twelfth man would be and in the same way as we expect the other eleven to do their job for 90 or 120 minutes, we must do ours on Sunday. Whether we’re watching at home, listening for a result through the world service or shouting inside Wembley. Because we’re not just shouting for ourselves, we’re shouting for all Sunderland fans who can’t be there, for the club, for the city, for the county, all united in our answer to why we stick with it win, lose or draw.
Why am I a Sunderland fan? Well, wise men say what they want, but the truth is, I can’t help myself.