Several things have dawned on me since Saturday with a variety of contributions from unlikely places. The first was Stoke’s relegation and that wry smile I spoke about in my previous article “Sympathy for Stoke?”. Now I don’t necessarily delight in the demise of other clubs bar maybe one or two, but I felt comfort from that relegation. When I started following football on my return from Africa as a 12-year-old, Stoke were not on our level. In fact, I think I saw us play Port Vale with the ponytailed Robin Van der Laan in his Kalamazoo shirt feeding off the more than slightly balding Martin Foyle before I ever saw Stoke play.
Stoke were a fairly insignificant team as far as I was concerned. I should add that even in Africa I was indoctrinated with Sunderland. The crackling, whistling tones of the world service as my dad followed what could only be described as years almost as dark as the last two unfolded over BBC accents. The VHS videos of Sunderland’s 1985 cup run. Names were in the vicinity of my awareness, but I was more interested in adding to my menagerie of captured reptiles which startled my mother when she went to put ironed clothes in my wardrobe.
We returned to England in 1990. I had watched the World Cup in South Africa on late night tv and caught the football bug. I recall the News in South Africa startling me one day as I saw the Sunderland badge come up alongside the news presenter as he reported on the promotion following financial irregularities at Swindon. That’s what I was coming back to.
In that first season my father acted as an enabler. He poured the addiction into me. A 0-0 draw with spurs where I got to see Lineker and Gascoigne fresh from the World Cup was special. For the next few months I complained about being cold. Then something happened. I can’t quite figure out why it happened but we beat Southampton 1-0 with a Kevin Ball penalty and it all changed. I felt a part of it all. By the end of that season as we were relegated with about 10,000 fans travelling to Maine Rd I felt pride.
Where does all this fit in with Stoke? Well that’s where the second bit of the weekend fits in. Sunderland are different. Sunderland are special. When Stoke were enjoying their purple patch their fans were applauded. I grant them, on a good day they are a noisy bunch. In the game against Palace the commentator on Radio 5 even said something about how the noise was special. In all we have read about our demise, Sunderland fans have been called everything from poisonous to fickle as we berate players or leave our seats before half time. We have never in recent years been called special. Even away fans have give up singing “where’s your famous Roker roar” replacing it instead with “is there a fire drill?”.
Then Wolves came. I referred to the Tranmere game in my post Wolves analysis. I could have referred to many games but that was the most fitting. We had won the title a while ago, Newcastle were going for the PL title. More than half of Prenton Park was red and white that day. At the exact same moment that Tranmere were awarded a penalty, Ryan Giggs scored at Boro. Sunderland went nuts. John Aldridge tucked away a penalty and celebrated as Tranmere players looked around in confusion. Sunderland fans were celebrating. This was our party and what was happening on the pitch was neither here nor there. The family of red and white were having their big day out.
The next thing that happened was that I read an article by John Nicholson at Football365 about why relegation doesn’t matter. A very good article and I recommend it to anyone. Relegation does matter. For about two or three weeks. Then it’s back to it. Ultimately football isn’t about being in the top flight. Football is about those Tranmere moments. Or the bloke jumping on the police bike. Or my mate being dared to eat the urinal cakes in a services on the way to Derby and doing it. It’s about being part of something great. That something great can be shared misery or joy. Hugging a random stranger as Carlos Edwards fires one in or looking at someone, rolling your eyes and muttering Chaucerian language under your breath.
I don’t know if next season will be all jollies and lording it over the teams in League One. Obviously, I hope it is but so what if it isn’t? I have spent the past god knows how many years turning up at the Stadium of Light not even with pessimism. Just acceptance. The inevitable will befall us, and yet I still renewed. The reason I renewed has nothing to do with the players or the football. It has nothing to do with whether I get to see Aguero or whoever. It’s because of those moments I have had with the fans. No matter which league we play in, the depths we have sunk to, we are Sunderland and i’m Looking forward to making memories with you all. Just don’t eat the urinal cakes, they really aren’t good for you.
To celebrate being complete and utter shite once again, we’re bringing bring back this classic t-shirt from the 05/06 season. Looking back to those halcyon days under Mick McCarthy when we managed to amass an incredible 15 points to see us relegated from the Premier League.
Don’t worry we will reach those lofty heights again but until then we can take comfort in the fact that we’re all... still here when we are shit! Hardcore fans and Sunderland till we die, whichever league we are in and whoever owns the club. Players, manager and chairman come and go. Fans remain. We are the club… click here to view product