As a young 7-year-old girl, I used to go to the odd match with my dad at the Stadium of Light, or ‘Stadium of Shattered Dreams’ as I soon discovered, but I was never an avid supporter.
Although admittedly, I did perhaps just go for the roast dinner rather than the football! But I suppose not much has changed there, but instead of a pre match carvery, pink slices are my new Saturday sin.
But then Wembley came around and I jumped at the opportunity to spend the cup final weekend with my Dad. I didn’t have a season ticket at this point, and everything was completely new to me. The new-found Mackem language was something I’d never heard before, but soon began to love.
Once settled into our very tiny hotel room, it was onto Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square. The noise was totally overwhelming! From the second I stepped out of our taxi all I could hear was passion, dedication, emotion (and a lot of hate directed to those from Tyneside!) It was at this point that I was hooked! the passion in these people’s faces made me realise that this meant something, that this was their life and soon it would become mine.
That night I was on cloud nine, along with the other 20,000 fans that packed out that square, that was until the football started.
Sunday soon came around and it was onto Wembley, the tubes were packed and Wembley way was a sea of red and white, the red and white army, who were ready for the battle.
I had never understood why everybody loved this game so much, until now for me it was just 22 men running about on a pitch, but what I didn’t realise was that this was a family, a tight knit community where everybody understood each other and everybody had the same ambition.
The sheet of white that came over everybody when that game went to penalties is something I’ll never forget, the same thing that happened in the 94th minute of the Play off Final.
For many Sunderland fans who went to Wembley in March, for those who cried on Netflix, this was their chance to finally win at Wembley and to claw back to the Championship, where everybody wanted the club to be, and where it deserved to be.
It was May… and would you believe it, me and my Dad were back on the train once again for the most important game of the season. As we left the station and were heading for London Kings Cross, the stress of the Cup final began to return, but, “Que Sera Sera,” I said to myself the now converted football addict.
We got to Trafalgar square a little later this time, missing most of the pre-match celebrations, so I vowed to get to the stadium early, to secure my overpriced Bovril and the Instagram pictures on the Iconic Wembley Way! And I did just that. Unfortunately, the lads weren’t so lucky on securing a victory.
The game quickly turned from Sunderland trying to score goals, to trying to defend the draw. They managed to hold it all together, until the 94th minute, when Charlton’s Bauer scored.
This white sheet that I had seen two months prior appeared not only on the faces of those around me, but for the first time I felt broken by what I had just seen, the heartbreak of every loss this season had suddenly been multiplied by 100 and was felt by everybody in the Sunderland end of this stadium, including me.
Wembley Way was a display of pure emotion and genuine despair and this was another critical point on my road to becoming a Sunderland supporter.
The train on the way home was anything but quiet, ‘que sera sera’ and ‘Sunderland till I die’ rang through the carriages, with me joining in with added passion for the first time.
Once again I had experienced the ‘Wembley Curse’ but not only that, I felt the grief that those that I once never understood were experiencing, I understood the reason that they turn up every Saturday, week after week to see these ‘22 men’ kick a ball and I now can thankfully say I understand the difference between a ‘ganzie’ and a ‘radge!’
The game is no longer just about the roast dinners and it’s a huge passion of mine.
I am now a dedicated supporter of the lads, just renewing my season ticket for the first time, Why? People ask me, because this club has taught me that perseverance when you feel like you’ve lost everything means a whole lot more than a trophy in a cabinet and the support that is shown in our attendance every game says it all, it shows the dedication and the perseverance of the Mackems, of the red and white army, who are a true credit to this club.
As a wise man once said, only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you, and Sunderland, I do love you.