The week which sees the World Cup kick off has yielded some interesting news for Sunderland fans. Four pre-season friendlies have been announced which will take us as far down as Lincolnshire and as far north as the west of Scotland. It was a gentle reminder that this year we are never going to be far away from a game of football.
The pre-season fixture list kicks off on July 11th with a trip to Darlington. The Quakers have become a bit of a tough outfit to many of their National League North opposition and this will be no different when Sunderland are in town. Blackwell Meadows may belong to a Darlington sports side which play with a very different shaped ball, but the football team still get plenty of support with over 1000 supporters being backed in for most home games last season. By the time we kick off at Blackwell Meadows in around a months’ time we’ll be most likely ready for club football to return, or maybe getting ready to listen in to England appearing in the World Cup Semi Final on the same evening? Hell, you can’t say I’m not optimistic.
Three days later will see us make the annual trip to Victoria Park to take on Matthew Bates’ Hartlepool United side. the Pools had a disappointing season last year but with new owners in place they’ll be keen to make a charge for the football league. They always tend to give us a good game and this year is sure to be no exception. The last time there was only one division between us Pools were in the league we’ll be taking part in during the coming season, so they’ll be up for a moral boosting victory as much as we are. It shows how things have changed, both sides have moved around the football pyramid a fair bit in recent years.
The third of the announced matches so far sees us head to Grimsby Town. The Mariners cut it close in their football league survival last season but as they are only one league below us they’ll probably be about on par with at least a handful of opposition in the third tier. It will also potentially see former Mackem and best player to never play for Brazil Danny Collins come up against us, which will be fantastic for everyone ever involved in football. This won’t be our last warm up match of the summer but by this point the season will just be three weeks away and we’ll hopefully have a decent idea of what our squad will look like.
The last of the confirmed pre-season games so far will take us to Jack Ross’ old club, St Mirren. Ross led the Buddies back to the Scottish Premiership and the man to take over was none other than former Sunderland defender Alan Stubbs. It may be just a friendly, but after the intense skulduggery of the summer everyone associated with St Mirren will be eager to thump their English third division opponents. It will be a good test for a Sunderland squad which will look very different, especially after the news most of the current squad want to leave. We’ve played a fair few Scottish opponents in recent times, but hopefully we can get a better result than our last contest against a side north of the border. The 5-0 defeat to Celtic didn’t do anyone any good and in hindsight foreshadowed the season which was to follow.
The announcement of pre-season matches never quite has the anticipation of the first team fixture release, but it is a gentle reminder that football will never be away for long. The significant changes in and around the club have us set up well to start bringing in a whole new squad and it’ll be great to head to these pre-season games (and the more that are sure to follow) knowing they are the first contests of the squeaky-clean slate at the Stadium of Light. if that wasn’t enough, its less than ten days until our League One fixtures are released so in reality it feels like we’ve never been away from the game which has never really been kind on Sunderland fans.