Captain's Blog: Let Us Never Speak Of This Season Again

Stu Forster

With the season drawing to a close (and survival finally looking likely), let's take a depressing wander through the soul-crushing reality of it.

If there has ever been a week to highlight the rollercoaster of football, then this has been it.

First of all there was the drama of the final day in the Championship season, when Hull tried their best to throw away promotion from a position of leading 2-1 and being about to take an injury time penalty. Then came Wigan's gutsy win at The Hawthorns to drag the entire bottom half into the Premier League relegation scrap. Customary Play Off dramatics followed, with Brentford and Bradford winning remarkable ties.

Sunderland had a taste of it too, of course. Far more than a taste, in truth. It wasn't pleasant.

I have to admit that when the referee brandished a wholly deserved red card at Craig Gardner against Stoke, I thought it was curtains for Sunderland this season. Already a goal down and missing the attacking threat of Stephane Sessegnon and Steven Fletcher against a side who prefer to defend, I struggled to see much light at the end of the tunnel that the club had so haplessly meandered down.

The words ‘typical Sunderland' were running through my head almost on a loop, as I considered those wins against Newcastle and Everton and how it seemed that they could possibly be made to count for absolutely nothing.

Thankfully, the football rollercoaster had plenty more twists, turns, peaks and troughs to get through. John O'Shea secured a priceless point for us and then Swansea rallied to administer a possible fatal blow to Wigan's survival chances.

From this position, Sunderland should secure survival. Even without another point, it would take a remarkable effort by Wigan to secure the points required to finish above Di Canio's men, and even if that happens it is no foregone conclusion that Norwich or Newcastle will pick up another point.

It isn't over yet, but every one of the three teams directly blow us in the table would swap our position for their own right now. For the first time last night, I felt pretty confident that Sunderland will be a Premier League club next season.

I should be happy about that, or at the very least relieved. I grew up watching the club fight perennial second tier relegation battles in front of 15,000 crowds at Roker Park, so comparatively speaking securing a seventh consecutive season of Premier League football is something to embrace.

But all I want to do - at the very earliest opportunity - is douse this season in petrol, set fire to it, and never speak of it again. As a fan, it has come as closer to breaking me as any other season following the club, and you only have to look at the club's record over the last 25 years to see how bold a statement that is.

The funny thing is that I am a natural optimist when it comes to Sunderland. I don't subscribe to the theory that if you expect the worst you'll never be disappointed, though I can't criticise anyone else who has resorted to such an attitude. If the situation warrants it, I want to be disappointed by Sunderland, because only then will I know that I am still capable of enjoying the good times, whenever they may be.

There is no promise of those good times ever arriving, but being a Sunderland supporter has always been about a leap of faith. That's why the ‘football is like a religion here' rhetoric is much more than a cliché when discussing the sport's influence on Wearside.

I appreciate that I am wading dangerously close to the ‘this is a special club' nonsense territory there, but that's not what I mean. I just mean it is different here. How else could you explain a consistent 40,000 average attendance at a club so steeped in failure and, at best, underachievement, and the kind of noise it generates in adversity? The willingness to suspend footballing disbelief and embrace possibility instead is simply a hallmark of the club. It's the only way to survive being a Sunderland fan.

So I won't dress it up - this season has hurt, regardless of its eventual outcome. From the point of view of both a fan and a writer, it has hurt. This was the season which wasn't supposed to be like this, and even looking at the league table and digesting the reality of the club's footballing failure doesn't really seem sufficient to illustrate just how bleak it has been.

The club will hold a summer inquest. With the ditching of, first, Martin O'Neill and his entire scouting staff, it seems that process is well under way. You have to give Ellis Short enormous credit for acting so decisively and it will surely - hopefully - stand the club in much better stead going forwards.

But as fans, let us never speak of this chore of a season again. Let it be confined to the annals of Sunderland history that are usually reserved for the John Colquhouns, Iain Rodgersons, Howard Wilkinsons, and Benjanis of this world.

Frankly, I'm sick of the sight of it.

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