You don't get many Sunderland fans in Leeds. There are few of us about, but ask any person on the street which football club they support and the odds are the answer that comes back won't be 'Sunderland'. Go figure.
Most of my friends know I'm a Sunderland fan, despite being from Leeds. They don't understand it, but they've come to accept it. For those that don't know me, however, the knowledge I'm a Sunderland fan is met with anguish and confusion; the question that inevitably follows is 'how come!?', and you can really hear that exclamation mark. The answer to the question, truthfully, is my dad's from 'up there'. Sometimes, for good measure, I add 'so didn't have a choice really'.
That second part is often taken as a joke, that if I did have a choice of which club I supported, there's no way it would be one that's spent the last 20 years yo-yoing from promotion to relegation, hasn't won a major trophy in over 45 years and just finished the previous season in the lowest league position in its history. Rather boringly, however, it is also the truth. I can't ever remember having a choice about supporting Sunderland.
Okay, the first football match I went to was at Bradford City, and I rarely got to see Sunderland play in the flesh, but there was no question which team I supported. I'd read about them obsessively and watch the end of season highlight videos on repeat so many times I could almost recite the commentary by heart. I even had a letter in framed on my bedroom saying 'Happy Birthday', signed by Peter Reid. I thought this last one made me special, so I was secretly quite miffed when my younger brother received a very similar letter from Mick McCarthy several years later.
It probably helped that I first got into football during one of Sunderland's more successful recent eras. Two seventh place finishes, and the genuine belief we could do even better, feels like a world away now. The teams of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries still colour my views of the team today; can our striker score goals like Kevin Phillips, can our defensive midfielder tackle like Kevin Ball, can our right-winger cross like Nicky Summerbee? The answer has invariably been 'no'.
So, despite living in Leeds, despite having no real connection with Sunderland beyond my dad being from 'up there', and despite only seeing three or four games a season, I considered myself as much of a fan as any season ticket holder. At some point over the last 10 years, however, that obsession sort of... died. It didn't happen overnight, it was a while before I even noticed it, but gradually I stopped reading the books, stopped staying up to watch Match of the Day or even waiting in desperate anticipation for the new ALS to arrive.
Life was a factor, of course; obsessions are time consuming, and time was harder to come by once university and then work came on the scene. The real reason was simple though - the team kept losing. It's very hard to get excited about a result at 4:45pm on a Saturday when you already know what that result is going to be.
All of which brings me to the conclusion of this article; because slowly but surely, over the last couple of seasons, that obsession has started to come back. When we got relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2016-2017 season I was glad. If I'm honest I wished it had happened a year earlier. Losing gets boring, no matter what league you're in. Relegation from the Championship was harder to take, but it's what happens when a team loses too many and wins too few.
Finally, after what feels like forever, Sunderland are winning again. Football is exciting again. A club of Sunderland's size and stature shouldn't have to drop into the third tier to win games, and it should be eating teams like Brighton and Sheffield United for breakfast, but it is hard to argue we shouldn't be in one league and should be in the other.
We are where we are; we shouldn't be, but we deserve it. At least I've got my obsession back.