A famous “life goal” statement is “shoot for the stars - that way if you miss, you’ll still end up with the moon.” Or you, more likely, floating aimlessly around in the perpetual darkness of space. On the other hand, one of the easiest ways to prevent constant disappointment is to set the bar lower. Pick easier, more attainable, targets. That way you’ll get what you set out to get, and can smile smugly at those still chasing the more ambitious options. Call it lowering your expectations if you like. I prefer to call it being realistic.
In football, of course, the done thing is to adopt the former mantra, regardless of the fact that only a teeny tiny handful of clubs have the cash necessary to attain those stellar targets. The odd Leicester-shaped blip apart, you have a pretty good idea who’s going to top the pile come May, and for the last several seasons, Sunderland have been aiming for something that we barely attained, and that was only survival. That meant that we got more than a bit tired of getting the celebratory banners out when we saw three teams below us at the end of the season, and the elation of that realisation was quickly replaced by misery at our lot in the grand scheme of football things.
Of course, last term’s target was considerably lower (well, only one place, as it turned out) but we failed in most spectacular fashion to get anywhere near that, and felt pretty bloody miserable about it. That word – miserable -again. This season, however, we’ve just about had time to get ourselves in order and set the bar a bit lower – 28 places lower, to be exact. The events of the last five or so seasons have ground us down until we are in a situation where is seems almost greedy to expect anything other than just avoiding failure, and where we feel guilty about hoping to enjoy following our club or expecting any sort of real success.
While those of us long enough in the tooth to know better than expect instant success, even (to employ the summer’s most overused SAFC-related phrase) at this level, it’s extremely difficult not to expect it. As the weeks, and latterly the days, have been counted down to the new season, it’s been virtually impossible not to get at least a wee bit excited and positive about things at the SoL. To that, I say… why the Hell not? If you expect to be miserable and let down, then you’re halfway to being miserable and let down before a ball is kicked. I’m not the only one who is actually looking forward to the atmosphere of the first game of the season, and who is feeling a bit peeved that the early kick-off means less time in the town to enjoy it building.
There are so many new faces – potentially, we could start with only one player from last season on the field – and they’ve all come across in an extremely positive, and seemingly articulate, fashion in their dealings with the media. For the first time in well over a year, the bus I travel on was full - a week ago. Our spirits are, in general, well and truly up, and why not? It’s been a long time since we travelled to games without fully expecting the best part of the day to be in the boozer beforehand. The components for a thoroughly pleasant campaign would appear to be in place, misery does not have to be our lot as Sunderland supporters, and for once we have potential that could realistically be fulfilled. We might be saying “aye, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, let’s consolidate this season and see where we can go” but inside we’re thinking “We can do well this season.” At the risk of repeating myself, it’s at this level, and that’s because that’s where we are, so let’s make the most of the new places and the new faces, make ourselves a load of new footballing friends, and along the way we might just achieve the achievable. Just please let’s do anything that brings out last season’s most used (printable) phrase – “typical Sunderland.”