Being a Sunderland fan is shit. There. I’ve said it. As I sat in a taxi back from a meeting with Red and White Army my Ethiopian taxi driver said we were crap. He was right we are. I asked who he supported and the answer was Liverpool. Liverpool, basking in the glory of their Champions League victory are quite often the most vocal of all supporters; especially when it comes to talking about history and the proud support that the city has for the club and the tradition and the boot room and the legends and blah blah blah.
Something changed in the conversation though and the taxi driver talked about how heartbroken he was about our defeats at Wembley. How he had taken people up to the SoL early in the morning to get the ALS buses and had watched the games and felt sympathy for us.
He recognised that we had supporters that stuck with us regardless. I told him that in my entire lifetime, as a man of 41, we had won nothing. Yeah, we had some Championship trophies and the great escape trophies and the six in a row trophy, but we have never known success in a meaningful sense.
We’re not alone in that, them lot up the road have years of experience of failure to win anything which eclipses ours. The thing is, all that gloating about airports and “better city” and empty pink seats belies a discontent amongst the ranks. They bought into the 92 club.
They praised their permed messiah; they’ve even been to Milan. The trophy cabinet still gathers dust. They mock our (current) chairman while shouting at shops and laugh at our league one status. The truth is, football’s really not much fun if you’re losing all the time.
We still haven’t won anything of course, and yes we are still in League One, but there are positives to take amongst all that. I was as angry and bitter and disappointed as anyone when we lost at Wembley again, but time heals everything. It’s often stated that football fans have very short memories. That is entirely true. We celebrated our great escapes as though we had won the league, instantly forgetting the shitshow that preceded it.
Now we look on a season where we turned a depleted squad into a team that is in the top four in the country for least defeats in a season as a huge failure and there are calls for the manager to be sacked. Perhaps that’s right. The draws should have and could have been wins. But after years of rocking up expecting defeat and being pleasantly surprised by victory it feels a little bit better with hindsight.
The biggest problem, in my humble opinion, which led to our demise was the fact that no manager had the chance to build an identity for the club. A new manager came in, brought in a few players who arrived at a club with no footballing identity and didn’t gel. Or perform. Or show what our fan base demands of those on the pitch. Ruud Gullit talked of sexy football but was undone in the rain by passion from players in red and white who came to do a job.
In recent years we have seen players intent on using our club as a stepping-stone. Against Charlton we saw Luke O’Nien coming back on after receiving stitches to a head wound and sobbing his heart out at the final whistle. Those tears were not just for his personal set back. Those tears were because he wanted to give the fans a reason to go home happy.
I’m not saying last season was brilliant, nor am I saying we should overlook tactical mistakes. The team was good enough for the most part to win promotion. What I am saying is what I have said since the start of last season when Adaggio for strings kicked in. When I have seen the flags waving and the lattice work shining in the Roker End. The club has rediscovered itself and it’s not a marketing ploy.
We aren’t the Mackem Nation or anything like that. We’re fans first and the club acknowledges that now. We were customers before this season. If there are to be new owners, which I think is more likely than not, I hope they understand that. For those who have travelled to Bristol or Accrington or Gillingham or wherever this season, thank you. The club is ours again.