MY FAVOURITE AWAYDAY. BY MARTIN WIGHAM



You just can’t beat an awayday. There is nothing better than being in the minority at the ground, singing loud and proud for Sunderland AFC, having a few beers with familiar faces that you only ever see when travelling to watch Sunderland play. I don’t get many opportunities to go to away matches but if I ever get the chance, I’m always keen to take it all in. Thinking back to the games I have been to away I’ve seen some highs, some lows and some absolutely hilarious moments. Choosing a favourite awayday is quite difficult for me. I was one of the 9000 at Old Trafford, I was there when we got a last-minute winner against the Mags to completely spoil their Christmas. But there’s one day that always stands out to me. It’s one of those days that really cemented my love for Sunderland.

It was the 18th April 2014. I was back from university visiting my family for the Easter break and my sister came into my room. Someone had last minute cancelled on a ticket away to Chelsea and my sister asked if I wanted it. As a keen Sunderland fan, who had just witnessed a shock 2-2 draw with Manchester City a few days earlier in which we were unlucky to lose 2 points, I immediately said yes. I wasn’t as optimistic about this day out in London, but it was another ground I’d always wanted to go to, so I was looking forward to the day out. On the morning of the game, we made the short 15-minute car journey to Chester Le Street cricket club where our bus was picking us up. The Chester Le Street Branch is notorious for being one of the friendliest and best branches to travel to and from the match with and as a member it was good to catch up with old acquaintances on the early morning bus to the old smoke. The football cards were out on the bus (which I never seem to win), music was blasted and the bus itself was a bouncing atmosphere.

We arrived in London at 1:30pm and were booked into an old-fashioned pub in West London (for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called,) to a decent spread and some brilliant drink deals. Two pints of Fosters for £9.50 in London. Bargain! As the pub began to fill with Sunderland fans from different branches or just on their travels to the match, the atmosphere was building and set to be a cracker of a day. The beer garden was filling nicely, Jeff Stelling and his pals kept us all up to date on the days results and watching the results go our way. I was asked how the match was going to go and for some reason I said I fancied us to nick it by a goal. Following Sunderland away I always become a huge optimist, we could be on a trip to Barcelona away and I’d tell you we’ll beat them 1-0 with Messi scoring an own goal. Bets were placed, songs were sung and scran was demolished. As the afternoon wore on, the pub got busier and busier with more and more Sunderland filing in. After a few more rounds, we jumped in the taxi and made our way to the ground.

Stamford Bridge as a stadium itself is in my opinion one of the best I’ve been to. The photos around the ground showed Chelsea lifting the Premier League as well as the Champions League. There was a lot of history in the ground itself, albeit very recent, but you could tell it was a very successful club on the pitch by being around the place. The atmosphere around the ground was building, the locals were expecting to romp home with a solid win to keep up Jose Mourinho’s impeccable unbeaten run at the stadium which he had made into a fortress. You felt it was going to be a monumental feat for Sunderland to get anything from the game. The game kicked off with the Sunderland fans in fine voice as always and 12 minutes in Chelsea got themselves a corner which Eto’o headed in. Oh well, looks like normal Sunderland service was to be resumed. However just five minutes later, we got our own corner, played back to Marcos Alonso who’s shot was parried into the feet of Connor Wickham who tucked home to make it 1-1. Game on! We couldn’t believe it. The first half went by without anything of note (that I can remember anyway) and there was a small sense of optimism. Surely Sunderland won’t get something from Chelsea after drawing with Man City. The second half itself was all Chelsea but Sunderland hung on in there. Then it happened.

Cezar Azpilicueta fumbled on the ball and slipped, which Jozy Altidore pounced onto and sprinted into the box. Azpilicueta hauled him down and a penalty was given. I was stunned, surely Fabio Borini was going to miss this, these things don’t usually happen to Sunderland. Borini put it down the middle, Schwarzer dived out the way and Sunderland were ahead. What was going on? I ended up two rows below my seat after the celebrations. Chelsea’s assistant manager had a massive paddy on the touchline and got himself sent off. This surely wasn’t happening?! Sunderland were ahead with 12 minutes to go and had cracked Chelsea’s assistant manager. In those 12 minutes I spent biting my fingernails to the stubs, watching Chelsea absolutely pepper Sunderland’s goal to no avail. Vito Mannone was not letting anything else past him that day. We made it to time added on and I was a wreck, I was convinced Sunderland weren’t going to hold on. Then it happened. Mike Dean blew the whistle and Sunderland had won. We had ended Jose Mourinho’s long unbeaten Stamford Bridge record and given ourselves a huge boost to stay up. The away end sang the names of Fabio Borini and Vito Mannone, saluting the heroes of the day. It was a gargantuan result of the most epic proportions. On the way out the ground the locals, who were smugly optimistic at the start of the game, were fuming. I made friends with one by waving on my way down the steps, he waved back but not as politely as I was.

The bus back to Chester Le Street, which was a bouncing atmosphere on the way down, was even better on the way back. Jose Mourinho whinged about the referee and gave no credit to Sunderland. When this got back to us on the bus it made it even better. We had completely rattled Chelsea in their own back yard and it was brilliant. Songs were sung louder and prouder on the way back. This result left Sunderland three points from safety and after being there for the Man City and Chelsea game there was no doubt in my mind now, Sunderland were staying up.

Things may not be as good as they were back then, but always remember that we have these days in the sun to remember forever. We may not be where we want to be now, but we are Sunderland til we die. We will be back!


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