It always sinks in the next day. That moment when you wake up and, within a second or two, recall the sickening events of the previous 24 hours.
Last night, I thought I’d handled the disappointment, but I knew the worst was to come this morning, when I came round and the memories of another utterly depressing match at Wembley came rushing back. Briefly everything ached and I thought about staying in bed. Thankfully I’d had enough about me to make sure I was working later, so couldn’t wallow. I need to get up and at it and go through the time-honoured therapy of getting my thoughts written down.
On the bus south I tried thinking of the most Sunderland way it could all go wrong, eternal pessimist that I am. Fear the worst and anything else is a bonus, that’s how I see things. I kept coming round to penalties, and although I did see us throwing away a lead I was way off in seeing how it would pan out, that the season would be top and tailed. An injury-time goal to end it all so brutally, against the team we’d done the same thing to right at the start of it. Anyone who says you couldn’t make it up just isn’t thinking hard enough.
I suppose the writing was on the wall when the red carpet was rolled out and the ‘dignitaries’ were Shaun Harvey and his daughter. I guess they couldn’t track down Talal El Karkouri, but surely they could get someone off Corrie, or Towie?
When things got under way, the encouraging start wasn’t a surprise. We’ve got previous for getting on the front foot quickly in a big game at a neutral venue, with David Hodgson at Wembley in 1985 and Julio at Old Trafford in 2004. However, the gift we got inside five minutes was a big shock. That own goal was a glorious out-of-the-blue stroke of luck to be built on, and we nearly did when Grant Leadbitter’s long-range effort was tipped around the post.
However, the abject nothingness which followed had many of us looking at the clock and wishing time away. It felt like a lot longer than half an hour had passed since the opener when they equalised. To say it was coming was an understatement. Thankfully we held on until half-time. Impressed by our organisation and temperament in the second half at Portsmouth, I figured we would regroup, that Jack Ross could get our shape back and that maybe our drop-off could help our energy levels at a ground notorious for draining the life from players’ legs.
Sadly, just like last time down there, we were slow out of the blocks at the start of the second half, offering Charlton, their drummer and their array of rip-off songs, further hope it could be their day. The atmosphere had turned. Did our edgyness get to our players, or vice-versa?
When Chris Maguire came off I thought he was invisible. But then again, from way up in 505, pretty much everything was invisible. I could see the gaps in our end though and again I was not too surprised. There are some good judges among us and a lack of finances or faith will have kept a good few thousand away.
Then, with most of us seeing an extra half hour and thinking probably the best we could hope for were penalties, that dismal ending. I couldn’t get out quickly enough, clocking an end that looked like a night out in Faliraki, and one that resembled a night in in Falkirk.
Outside, and the familiar frantic power walk away from the place. I was in my own little world, hearing the inquests of fellow fans wondering where it all went wrong and seeing the curious looks of passengers wondering why their Tube was busier than usual, but making contact with no one until I was nearly on the bus. At least I managed to blag an earlier one. When you think you’ve done well getting back from an outing like that an hour early, you know football has ruined another decent day.
The damage the defeat has done to our already fragile fanbase may well be reflected in the crowds we pull at the start of next season. Sure, many will look forward to putting this behind us in a couple of months - but the misery of continuous failure won’t be tolerated or accepted by all, and nor should it.
Sat here watching Sky Sports News, a Villa fan on Wembley Way has just used us a reference point for failure in the build-up to their play-off final, using the obligatory “no offence” line before coughing out the words “League One” - thanks pal, plenty taken. The sun’s out there too, we got pissed on, not that I blame him for that. But I am taking comfort from the fact that around half the fans full of anticipation as I type this will be hurting like we do right now. First rule of football, take a bit of pleasure from someone else’s pain.
Many rightly are taking something from the fact that the last time Charlton denied us a step up, we bounced back by winning the league with 105 points. That has to be our focus at the lowest time in our history.
But for now, I’m looking forward to a few weeks off from this. I need some time to recharge my batteries, so I’ll leave it to others to ask the questions about what went wrong, and why, and I won't get worked up about who’s coming, who’s going, or whether the Mags get the takeover they crave. But I’ll get the spark back. After 46 years I know there's a light that will never go out. I’ll never regret being a Sunderland fan.