To say I’m nervously excited awaiting the first game of the season would be a bit of a stretch. To say I’m apathetic and past caring, would also be far removed from the truth.
On many an occasion I’ve told friends, family or colleagues that I’m falling out of love with football. I hate the stereotype Millionaire, couldn’t care less, Instagram-obsessed, underachieving pricks jogging around in their extortionately-priced and horrendously-designed kits, with the name of a foreign bookmaker plastered over the front, playing solely for the name on the back, whilst telling fans how much they care in video diaries run by their employers who give less of a shit than the players do!
I hate it. I’ve had enough.
I hate modern football.
I hate that clubs are now ‘brands’
I hate VAR.
I hate that the ‘fan experience’ is now a completely sanitised version of the one I fell in love with.
I hate it all.
I still love Sunderland AFC though. And now we’re in League One, we don’t have to suffer many of those scourges I’ve just mentioned.
I still occasionally hate that I love Sunderland AFC though.
One such occasion was the Play-Off Final defeat in May. That hit me way harder than I thought it would. I travelled back home after the game with that same gut-wrenching feeling that I had suffered after watching us lose to the same opposition in 1998. If anything, the depressing, sick-to-the-stomach aftermath may have lasted longer than it did back then. And that really shocked me.
It really shocked me because I thought I didn’t care as much. In fact, I know I don’t care as much as I used to! So how and why did I feel like that again?
I’m not exactly sure if there’s a singular, definitive answer to that question apart from “Cos I’m obviously still a massive Lads fan”. When looking back on last year’s League One campaign though, I genuinely believe that I was naïve for most of it.
Not only naïve in the sense of underestimating the opposition, the slog of a 61-game campaign and the standard of football on display. But naïve that despite the regular bumps in the road, I still believed that we’d go up. Deep down, by hook or crook, we’d get there. And because of that, we could all enjoy the highs and lows of the journey.
I was partying in Trafalgar Square on a Saturday evening, then singing my heart out at Accrington Stanley on the following Wednesday. Both results mattered little. We were going up one way or another.
Only when looking over my right shoulder at the Charlton fans ecstatically celebrating their winning goal, did I know that I should have known better.
Typical Sunderland man.
The hangover has been a lengthy one, despite the close season being over in the blink of an eye. Anyway, line drawn. What’s happened since that fateful Allez Allez A-May Day?
We’ve had takeover rumours that never generated the fervour and anticipation of last Summer and ultimately never came to fruition. We’ve had question marks over our owners and their finances. We’ve had question marks over our Manager and his tactics.
We’ve had long-standing players leave the club for little or no money. We’ve had relatively unknown players arrive for little or no money. At this stage I’d personally agree with the departures, but would have to reserve judgement on the arrivals - Wikipedia and YouTube hasn’t given me enough to go on.
We’ve scored a couple against South Shields.
We’ve (so far) kept our two best performers last year.
Here we go again
I’d imagine there’s a few of you that feels in a similar way to me on the eve of the Oxford game. You’re glad to have the comforting routine of a matchday back. Happy to have the escape route from the daily rat race return. Yet if truth be told, you don’t think you care as much as you used to.
There will be others that could be outraged as such a suggestion! You’re still that dedicated devotee that travels Home and Away to watch SAFC and will continue to do so until the day you die.
It doesn’t really matter though does it? It doesn’t matter who is the best fan. Doesn’t matter who stays until full time. Doesn’t matter who watches in the pub. Doesn’t matter who has the most social media likes. Doesn’t matter who watches on a dodgy online stream in Pallion whilst pretending to live in Paris(ite).
We’re all Sunderland fans, we’re all in this together, we’re all stuck with it and regardless of anything I’ve spouted above, we’ll all be right back in the proverbial mixer on Saturday. Be it the first pint with your mates or tuning in on the radio, we’ll all feel it again in the stomach.
The first game of the Season is that wonderful opportunity to draw a line and move on. One win and a mere three points is all it will take to positively look forward again. A resounding win at that, and we’ll be in the firm belief that Promotion is ours for the taking.
Despite the apathy, anger, annoyance and angst that we all suffer as fans of our beloved club, by the very definition of being a Sunderland supporter we are all emotional, insecure wrecks that continue to flick that switch every August and willingly fall again into the matchday abyss. And we love to hate it and hate to love it.
We always will.
I don’t expect this Season to have the novelty factor nor the naivety of last year, but that doesn’t mean it has to be less enjoyable. In fact, the opposite should apply. I may hate modern football and all that goes with it, but I still love my club.
That’s as long as we go up this year like. Otherwise they can go and get fu….
Here we go again
Ha’way the Lads