My SAFC Story…

Being a Sunderland fan comes with a lot of perks and a lot more drawbacks, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’ve been season ticket holder for ten years now, and there has been many changes during the ten-year period. There have been ten managers in that time, from Steve Bruce to Jack Ross we’ve gone from 10th in the Premier League to League One.

I still remember the time I got a season ticket for my 13th birthday. I’d been going to games on and off since I was six or seven, but I wanted to go to them all. My mam and dad convinced me I wasn’t going to get one for my birthday, but when the day came guess what was in my birthday card… yep you guessed it, the confirmation that I’d be going to every Sunderland home game the next season with my dad.

Over the first few years of being a season ticket holder we started off with some midtable finishes and things were relatively fine, it seems like a lifetime ago that we finished 10th and 13th as we reached the magic 40-point mark. A highlight from the early seasons was the win against Chelsea 3-0, and the form of Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan, Stephane Sessegnon, Steed Malbranque and Jordan Henderson. I’ll just forget about the times when we couldn’t beat Newcastle. The early seasons I took for granted, if you’d tell me we would be in League One in just under ten years I would have savoured every win and that tenth finish even more.

There have been many highlights in being a Sunderland fan during my time as a season ticket holder and the games against Newcastle were incredible. Beating them six times on the trot seemed impossible but we just kept thrashing them. We didn’t just beat them either, we smashed them. Winning 3-0 twice at their place was incredible, I still remember watching the first one at home when my Grandma was round, and I don’t think she had ever seen me celebrate a goal before. I ran round the house shouting and screaming with every goal - it’s fair to say she was a bit shocked. The wins at home with Borini’s winner and the 3-0 where even Billy Jones managed to score were all brilliant, but beating them on their patch was the best feeling.

Another highlight was the run to Wembley in 2014, thinking back it’s incredible that we even reached the latter stages of the competition let alone the final. I went to the first game at home to MK Dons and we were 2-0 down to the League One side, I imagine the odds for us to reach the final at that stage were massive. We turned it around to win, and then beat Peterborough and Southampton in the 3rd and 4th rounds respectively. We played Chelsea in the quarter finals and came from the brink to win in extra time thanks to a great Ki goal. What happened in the semi-final was incredible. After beating David Moyes’ Man United 2-1 in the first leg we had the lead going into the second half of the tie. Phil Bardsley’s goal in the 119th minute caused absolute chaos not only in the away end but in my house. I remember running around the house and celebrating like a mad man. It felt like the winning goal, but in true Sunderland fashion we do it the hard way. They equalized two minutes later, and it went to penalties. In probably the worst shootout ever, Sunderland won 2-1 on penalties thanks to the heroics of Vito Mannone, not long after It sunk in that I would be going to Wembley to see my team play.

When the final came, it seemed impossible that we could win, but the impossible almost happened as Borini scored the opening goal. What will stick with me is my celebration for the goal, which was filmed by the club and you can still see on YouTube. The result while gut wrenching it was a still a brilliant day to see my team play at the home of football.

The last few seasons in the Premier League we became famous for our great escapes, none more so than under Gus Poyet in 2014, we turned into an incredible side for a month. We beat Chelsea and Man United away from home and thrashed Cardiff 4-1. Connor Wickham turned into a goalscoring machine and we stayed up with a game to spare. We were seven games adrift with six games left and somehow escaped. This may be the most impressive but during my time watching the lads, the escape under Sam Allardyce in 2016 was just as incredible. I think back to the 3-2 win against Chelsea when we were down in the game twice and came back to win with goals from Khazri, Borini and Defoe. The atmosphere was just mesmerising, 45 thousand jubilant Sunderland fans jumping up down celebrating as one, this was my favourite moment at the Stadium of Light. After that season where we stayed up and a certain team up the road went down things felt positive. We had a good team with a lot of good players and a manager who the fans liked, everything looked positive to go into the next season and push up the league. Sadly, it was exactly the opposite. Allardyce left for England and things spiralled from there.

The 2016/17 season under David Moyes was one of the worst in my time, I was at the Rotherham game in pre-season when it was announced Moyes got the job, and he came on the pitch with a big roar from the away fans… how things changed. It took until the 5th of November for the lads to win a game and we ended up winning twice in a row against Bournemouth and Hull. What I remember most in that period is the front three of Victor Anichebe, Jermain Defoe and Duncan Watmore. The strength of Anichebe, the brilliance of Defoe and the exuberance of youth with Watmore worked brilliantly. Sadly, Watmore and Anichebe suffered major injuries and the team never looked the same. To sum up Sunderland that season we were 4-0 up at Palace away and comfortably won the game, we then played Southampton and lost 4-0 at home. A special mention must be for Jermain Defoe who was not only a pleasure to watch but a gentleman off the field and his relationship with Bradley Lowry was incredibly heart-warming. The overriding feeling of this season was being down and depressed about going to watch my team, because you almost knew you were going to walk away unhappy and disappointed. It was that feeling of going to games and expecting the inevitable, but If I didn’t go to games what on earth would I do on a weekend? When we were relegated, me and my dad both didn’t know what else we would do on a weekend, so it seemed like formality that we’d renew our season tickets.

When we had been relegated, I didn’t think that that we’d go down again, I mean I didn’t think we’d do well, but I wanted a boring season where we weren’t going to be relegated and there was little drama... that’s not how Sunderland work though. We started well and were in the playoff picture after a few games but that’s as good as it got. As someone who doesn’t often go to many away games, I hadn’t seen us win since the home game against Hull in November, it cant be often that a manager (Simon Grayson) hasn’t won a home game during a tenure. We finally ended the drought at home when we played Fulham. This was a game where you’d expect us to easily get beat, the team pushing for promotion against the struggling side, however, enter Josh Maja. His goal won us the game and gave us hope.

As a Sunderland fan, you come to expect the worst, but every time we won a game you thought can we now go on a little run of two or three wins and get ourselves out of trouble. Our last chance was against Derby where we won 4-1 away from home, everything seemed to click. However, we couldn’t manage to pick up any form and were eventually relegated by Burton which pretty much summed up how bad it had gotten.

Like the season before, even when we did win it wasn’t the same as it used to be, because you knew it wasn’t going to last. I’ve tried to wipe my memory of last season’s horrors but what stays with me is the walks back from the game. Walking over the bridge with my dad after the defeats just not caring anymore surrounded by fans who looked dejected thinking what’s the point? The club’s soul had been ripped out and stamped on, we’d never have the best team in the world but what we pride ourselves on is our fan base. Ellis Short and Martian Bain had dragged the club to the ground and just didn’t seem to care at all. I dread to think what it’d be like if Short wasn’t able to sell the club.

That brings me on nicely to the takeover, we desperately needed someone to take charge of Sunderland and breathe new life into the club. We needed to get back to basics and start again, the new owners had to realise what sort of club this is. Up stepped Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven. From the outset I had no idea who they were, what sort of money they had or anything about them, but what I was impressed with was the fact they knew the task they had at hand and they wanted to make the fans feel like they had their club back.

Those times when I’ve walked back from the matches down and depressed have changed to optimism and joy, I mean not always, but there’s a different mentality at the club. From not wining a home game for over year to not losing a home game this season so far. One of the best parts of going to the game is experiencing it with my dad and with Sunderland playing well it makes the experience so much better. Sadly, this is going to be my last season as a season ticket holder (for now), it’s my final year at university and I’m going to be looking for full time work and can’t guarantee I’ll be able to go consistently. The trip to Wembley this year was a great way to end the ten-year spell with the club, the weekend away, drinking at Trafalgar square and the game itself was almost perfect if you forget about the result.

Time will tell how this season will turn out but what it’s done has made me fall back in love with my club.