The 11th May is truly a significant day in Sunderland’s recent history. It may just be that you think that this day was just any other day, Sunderland securing survival in the Premier League for another year after hanging onto the bottom three, like that fly the craves a sweaty pile of shite. This time things felt different, we had a manager who understood the club, knew how to deal in the modern-day transfer market and had Sunderland playing some great football. I put a daft tweet out, showing the celebrations after the Everton game and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people. Things finally seemed to be on the up for Sunderland, as it transpires however, it was just purely another case of what could have been.
11th May 2016, Sunderland had just secured their tenth straight season in the Premier League after thumping Everton 3-0 at the Stadium of Light. A double from Lamine Kone and a great freekick from Patrick Van Aanholt was enough to guarantee that Sunderland had kept themselves safe. The scenes after the final whistle around the crowd were jubilant. Fans and players alike in tears, the home crowd rejoiced with noise that only an ecstatic Stadium of Light could produce. Sam Allardyce threatened to strip towards the South Stand and, like we always sing, things finally seemed like they were going to get better. This felt like the time Sunderland were going to become a force in the Premier League and no longer in the battle for relegation. 11th May 2020, just four years later and Sunderland are now in League One, with an owner who is arguably worse than our previous owner and things don’t seem to look very bright. How on earth did it get to this?
Back to that night four years ago. The Stadium of Light crowd, having just witnessed a remarkable comeback win over Chelsea just four days earlier, knew that a win would secure our place in the Premier League relegating Norwich City and NEWCASTLE UNITED.
Oh, how the party would commence if we managed to succeed. It turned into a relatively routine evening. Everton, coming into the game, were completely out of sorts and the fans had turned against their manager. The majority of Everton fans I knew expected us to beat them easily. When the final whistle went, pure joy erupted from the stands. After such a clinical beating of an established top half Premier League side at home, the Stadium Of Light was rocking. The players did their lap of honour and not one soul left the stadium. It had been a tricky few years under Ellis Short’s tenure but finally things looked on the up. We had a manager in Sam Allardyce who got what the club was about and was willing to take us where we wanted to be. Finally, we’d cracked it. ‘The Mags are going down’ we cried, we were belting out the Sunderland name loud and proud. The atmosphere from that final whistle told you that this was an evening which held a seismic change in the club’s fortunes. Now we could look forward to watching England at the stadium for a warm up match before heading to the European Championships. What a great summer we were expecting!
28th June 2016- England 1 - 2 Iceland
England were stunned by the tiny island of Iceland, knocked out of the European Championships in the second round. There was a huge uproar on social media that Roy Hodgson had to leave his post as England manager, how dare he put Harry Kane on corners?! Not even an hour after the match, Hodgson announced he was resigning as England manager. England fans rejoiced; it was clearly the right decision Hodgson’s time was up. In Sunderland however, this decision did not go down well. Almost as soon as this was announced the bookies had Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce down as the favourite. This really buggered that positive feeling from only 6 weeks before. I remember nervously checking every day after the announcement, watching Allardyce’s odds continue to plummet. A highlight was seeing Steve Bruce’s name briefly go above Allardyce, a man I never want to be in charge of England, but if it meant keeping Allardyce he could take the role. Sam Allardyce took training as normal, however things didn’t seem right.
In an interview with the Sunderland website he grumbled about not been given the resources he was expecting to really take the club forward. Deals had fallen through for the likes of Davide Santon, the former Newcastle and Inter Milan full back. There was a worry that, even if he wasn’t offered the England job, he may walk away from the club anyway. Sunderland travelled to Hartlepool for their first pre-season friendly on the 20th July 2016, the press was reporting Allardyce was due to be England’s man but he arrived off the bus, smiling in his Sunderland tracksuit. Maybe he was going to turn it down and stay on with the Sunderland project, the hope pulsated on SAFC fan social media. At half time however, Allardyce walked out of the ground and ultimately out of Sunderland A.F.C. As devastated as we were, David Moyes walked through the door and there was the expectation that Moyes could keep the feel-good factor around the club and carry on the excellent work that Allardyce before him had achieved.
It’s quite difficult to carry on writing about this period. As we are all well aware, David Moyes turned out to be an absolute disaster. His negative demeanour rubbed off on the players and fans alike. There was no sign of a fight at all to stay up, Moyes expected us to be in a relegation battle from the very start of the season. I constantly argue the point that, on the 11th May, things seemed to change. The club were in the very best position to kick on and finally establish themselves as a Premier League club. Granted, Moyes may feel like he was let down, not only by Ellis Short but by a number of players within the squad as well. I won’t say that it is all down to Moyes that we are where we are today, he should however take his share of the blame.
The feel-good atmosphere was completely destroyed and Sunderland finally ended their stay in the Premier League. Things went catastrophically the year after, in a well-documented season on Netflix, Sunderland found themselves in yet another pitiful attempt at staying up, this time, in the Championship and we were shockingly relegated to League One (on my birthday as well, cheers lads). Once it is safe to do so, we will likely be kicking off a third season in League One or continuing our second season in this division. Questions will be asked and there will be an obvious sense of frustration, but in these awful times we are living in, we should be grateful that we get the chance to go back to the ground and share the matchday experience again. I truly believe that with a rejuvenated fan base we can help lift the lads back to where want to be.
Looking back, it’s hard to see us ever possibly being in this position. Especially four years ago today. How on earth can something go so wrong in such a short space of time? I look back on the 11th May 2016, the real surge of positivity from the ground and feel a strong sense of ‘What if’. What if Sam Allardyce had stayed on at Sunderland? Could we have been seen as a tantalising prospect for potential new owners? What if we finally managed to kick on and improve the squad after a very impressive January transfer window? Finally, what if Harry Kane didn’t take the F***ing corners?