20th December 2003
Nationwide Division One
Sunderland A.F.C. 2-1 Wimbledon F.C.
My early years coincided with some of the worst times in Sunderland’s recent history. There was nothing much to entice me to the Stadium of Light. Whenever I overheard adults talking about players and matches, it was always about how awful they were at the weekend. It seemed like the word Sunderland was synonymous with terrible football. As someone with no connection to the club, going to the match appeared to be something that just made people upset and angry.
However, when we were relegated to Division One and results picked up, Sunderland didn’t seem to annoy people like they had. When my class were given letters at home-time with a ticket offer for a match, I was interested enough to ask my dad if he could take me. He already had a season ticket, and in hindsight was probably waiting for this moment. He agreed, and a couple of weeks later I was handed the tickets by my teacher.
I remember walking to the ground along Fulwell Road, wrapped from head to toe in what felt like all the warm clothing I had. I had been told by my dad that Wimbledon were terrible, so was expecting a win. Climbing up to the Premier Concourse, the stairs seemed to go on forever and the crowds seemed equally endless. I remember looking down from our lofty seats and being impressed by the stadium, even though it was less than half full. Those that had come had had their enthusiasm dampened by the cold, which in the Concourse was particularly brutal.
I was concentrating so hard on looking around me and making sure that I shouted the right things at the right times, I can only remember select parts of what was actually quite an eventful game. Marcus Stewart’s penalty escapes me, but I vividly remember Paul Thirlwell trying to clear a low cross into the box, slicing the ball and watching it loop over Mart Poom. My young brain could not comprehend why he had deliberately done that. Did he not know we were shooting at the other goal? Fortunately, Michael Proctor scored the winner in the last minute to win the game, but the thrill of this was more or less lost on me. If Wimbledon were as bad as my dad and the league table in the programme said, my reckoning was we should have beaten them by more.
In all honesty, I would be lying if I said that last minute winner got me hooked on Sunderland there and then, but definitely caught my attention. As the season went on, Sunderland forced themselves into the promotion race and made the semi-finals of the FA Cup and I found myself being drawn more and more towards the team. That summer, I received a season ticket for my birthday, and haven’t looked back since.