MY FAVOURITE AWAYDAY. BY MICHAEL LOUGH



Over the years, the writers of The Simpsons have been known to predict the future with eerie precision.

Episodes in the 90s foreshadowed a range of events from Donald Trump’s presidency to the horse meat scandal.

They perhaps slightly less well known for encapsulating what life as a Sunderland supporter has been like since August 2016.

At the start of one episode, Homer Simpson stands up and urges his sports team of choice to ‘just hurry up and lose already so we can go home.’

When Lisa asks him why he hates them so much, he simply responds with, ‘I loved them once, but they broke my heart.’

It’s somewhat of a comedic irony that he is, of course in the stadium watching the team he ‘hates’ so much, perfectly highlighting that despite letting us down time after time, we simply can’t walk away from our team.

In fact, had the episode initially been aired in 2020, you could be forgiven for thinking that Homer was in fact a Sunderland supporter taking out his frustrations on Phil Parkinson’s hapless side of late 2019.

At the time, we seemed to be reaching a new low every week as we embarrassingly lost to Leicester City under 21’s in the Leasing.com Trophy, lost to Gillingham away twice in under a month and failed to beat basement boys Bolton Wanderers at home on Boxing Day.

To say I was getting fed up was an understatement, from those outside the club it seemed crackers that I was wanting a manager sacked after less than three months in a job; but after witnessing two relegations from the Premier League with a record low points total, lose 8-0 on the road, attending every home fixture under David Moyes, Simon Grayson, and Chris Coleman, in which time I saw just three more home wins than permanent managers in the dugout, concede three own goals within 15 minutes of each other in my first ever game and go almost an entire calendar without seeing us win a home game all before the age of 25, I had shown a level of temperance that would make Ghandi blush.

But in my infinite wisdom, I had decided to purchase a ticket for Doncaster away when I was presumably still high off the fumes of a 3-0 defeat to 4th off bottom of the football league, Scunthorpe United.

So, it was with great trepidation that I departed for South Yorkshire along with over 4,000 Sunderland supporters who were presumably all part of the same social experiment to see just how much punishment one fanbase can take before engaging in full scale rioting.

On the way down, me and a few of the lads were discussing whether we would take a heavy defeat if it meant Parkinson would face the sack.

The general consensus was that, unfortunately, that would be the best possible outcome.



So, I was essentially spending my money on watching a team I couldn’t stand the sight of, a manager I could stand the sight of even less and to sing ‘Super Kevin Phillips’ for 90 minutes.

I hated myself for thinking like this, but I just couldn’t see how a win out of nowhere was going to spark any kind of a revival.

As the coach trundled down the motorway, there was spontaneous acapella rendition of bohemian rhapsody, before the Vengaboys classic was turned from a young ladies desire to have someone in her room to a declaration that we had Denver Hume. Depressingly, I thought this was going to be the highlight of the day.

This feeling was compounded upon arrival in Doncaster when the only pub within walking distance of the stadium was an understaffed, overcrowded, Harvester that was showing highlights from a Rugby Union fixture rather than that day's Old Firm Derby.

At around 2.30, I headed to the ground with less enthusiasm for the 90 minutes ahead than Jack Rodwell when he was handed a rare start.

Just six minutes into the game, Lynden Gooch curled Sunderland in front and I realised how absolutely full of shit I was as I hugged everyone with a three mile radius of me before standing with my arms outstretched, belting out ‘and it’s Sunderland, Sunderland AFC, we’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen!’

As the half wore on, I was expecting the initial excitement and shock of taking an early lead to subside, but I was energised by the performance on the field.

Pep Gaurdiola’s Barcelona side it was not, but after a lacklustre few months, we were suddenly playing with an intensity I’d not seen for a long time, we were first to every second ball and we actually took the game to the opposition.

In typical Sunderland style, we went and spoiled it and conceded just five minutes before half time.

Ah well it was fun while it lasted, surely Doncaster would come out in the second half and put a confidence deprived Sunderland side to the sword.

Except they didn’t and the second half saw an even more determined, energetic performance from the lads.

They were rewarded on the hour mark when Chris Maguire converted Denver Hume’s cutback which created an explosion of joy in the away end, with some even spilling onto the pitch to mob the celebrating players.

From that moment until the final whistle the fans were a wall of noise, the players ran themselves into the ground and ultimately saw the game out.

At full time as the players went over to applaud the away end, the roar was absolutely deafening and all the apathy of the previous weeks had been temporarily forgotten.

The celebration police would have detained all of our travelling support under the excessive enjoyment act of 2019 but for me there is nothing small time or embarrassing about going a bit overboard over small victories.

People may pour scorn over celebrating a goal with over half an hour to go in a game which ultimately lifted us to 13th in the English third tier by invading the pitch, but days like Doncaster provided a snapshot of what life could be like if we ever got things right on a regular basis.

As fans we go through a lot, but on that day, it reaffirmed that there is no greater hobby than following Sunderland all over the country.

For 90 minutes I sung myself hoarse, caught up with a lot of friends who I only really see at the match, went mental when we scored and after the match it promoted an impromptu night out.

Sometimes it’s not about the bigger picture, after the game I still wanted Parkinson sacked, I didn’t think one win would change our season, but it’s not about that.

It’s about the eight year old child in front of me at the match standing on his seat singing Sunderland ‘Til I die, it’s about feeling pride in your club and your city and most of all sometimes it’s just about having a good time.

This is a special football club and the passion we all share is why players like Niall Quinn, with no connection to the area of the club get sucked in.

The next morning, nursing a severe hangover that I hold Chris Maguire around 80% responsible for as I watched our winning goal and the scenes that followed it at least a dozen times along with snapchat stories which featured the numerous trains and minibus journeys home, I simply thought to myself…’I love Sunderland, me!’



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