When the referee blew the final whistle in the first leg of the Capital One Cup Semi Final against Manchester United, most Sunderland fans were eager to get their hands on a ticket for the return leg at Old Trafford, especially when the club released a statement notifying all Sunderland fans that 9000 tickets would be up for grabs. However, this is my experience, and it was an unforgettable one at that.
It all started on Wednesday morning after getting a pass out from my school, who did allow me to go to the match seeing how it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see my beloved Mackems in a major cup semi final. The atmosphere started while me and three of my mates waited for our bus to arrive, with Sunderland supporters singing while walking down the street, or just in the pub around the corner. From this moment on, I knew that this day would be special and it wouldn't be like any other away game. The bus arrived outside the Stadium of Light and we all ensured that we sat together. The moment that the bus set off was the moment that I realised that today could be the day that we beat the Mags to the new Wembley. For three hours straight (despite a stop at a service station, which I nearly got left at), it was chanting, optimism and hope that we would scrape our way past an under performing United and book ourselves a ticket at Wembley.
We arrived at Old Trafford four hours early, and we were left pondering what we could possibly do in that time. Thankfully, we were at one of the most famous stadiums in the world, so we had a look around to see what we could do to entertain ourselves. We found a place to stop and eat, had a quick shop around Tesco and before we knew it, the ground was open and we could find our seats. However, it was still an hour before kick off, so we just had to wait until the players came out to warm up so we could entertain ourselves. To be quite honest, this hour went very quickly and this is when it began.
The noise in the away end was absolutely phenomenal, it was deafening! I don't think you could tell who the home crowd was because we out sang the Manchester United fans all game. The roar when the teams walked onto the pitch was ground shaking, you could feel the optimism flowing out of the away end. Sunderland started the game leading 2-1 on aggregate, meaning that they had to avoid losing 1-0, otherwise Manchester United would win on away goals after extra time. WISE MEN SAY! A spine tingling chorus of Wise Men Say erupted from the away end, making the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. You could feel the belief oozing out of the away end. However, chants were cut short when Jonny Evans nodded in a close range header after poor defending by John O'Shea. Still, I couldn't hear a peep from the United fans, but you could hear the Sunderland faithful from miles away, even though as it stood we were heading through the exit door.
Is anyone else tired of seeing the same old Sunderland sit back and defend for 90 minutes? Well, I'm glad to say those days are over because after United's goal, we stuck to our original game plan and I could just feel the positive vibe coming fro the Sunderland fans. The second half arrived, and we had our chances to equalize and take the lead on aggregate, but we couldn't create and therefore went into extra time, and the Mackem faithful still stuck by their team and sang their hearts out, including me and my three mates who wouldn't pass this opportunity up for the world. And yet, still not a single chant from the United fans. Were they intimidated by our fantastic support?
Extra time came and United should have had the game dead and buried as Hernandez missed a one on one when he should have really scored. When the ball came to him on the half way line, it was a heart in mouth moment for me, and all Sunderland fans because if he scored, we needed to score to at least take it to penalties. 118th minute, Sunderland fans signing their hearts out for the lads, as they had done all match. Johnson chips it into the box, Fletcher flicks it on to Ki, Ki takes on a few players before laying it off to Bardsley. Shoot is the cry from the Sunderland fans. Bardsley tries a trademark long shot, DE GEA HAS SPILLED IT AND SUNDERLAND HAVE SURELY BOOKED A PLACE IN THE CAPITAL ONE CUP FINAL. Pandemonium in the stands. The noise was absolutely sensational, I have never screamed so loud in my entire life! It was absolutely incredible. People were falling all over the place, people were hugging each other and I even saw the odd few people crying, we had scraped our way to Wembley for the first time in 22 years! Sensational was the word to describe the moment when I saw the ball bobble into the back of the net.
Jubilation was soon cut to devastation as Januzaj found his way into the box, and cut it across the six yard box for Hernandez, who tapped it in. Anything out of the ordinary there? I felt the pain of 9000 Sunderland fans crushed dreams. We only had to hold on for two minutes, but that is what being a football fan is all about, ey? Celebrating like a mad man one minute then 30 seconds later, your heart is broken and you feel like crying. Emotional was the word. So what did this mean? The intensity of penalties.
Gardner was the first to step up, and now this tie became very interesting. MISSES! The look of horror on the faces of 9000 Sunderland fans, who had made the 6 hour round trip to support the lads. Next is Welbeck, MISSES! I couldn't believe our luck, could this be our year? Fletcher was next to step up, MISSES! A tame penalty, and an easy save for De Gea, but what can we expect of him? Darren Fletcher now, SCORES! Sunderland in trouble now as they find themselves behind on penalties. Alonso, SCORES! A cracking penalty from Marcos Alonso and we are on level terms, hope rekindled for Sunderland fans, it might not be over. Januzaj, SAVED BY MANNONE! It was getting quite incredible as I could see the arch of Wembley getting closer. Ki, SCORES! As cool as you like. What could you expect from Ki, we knew he would score, he doesn't crumble under pressure. Jones, MISSED! Johnson needed to score to send us to Wembley. Johnson, MISSED. De Gea saves. Rafael needs to score, otherwise it's game over for United. My heart was pounding, I was praying that he would miss, sweat trickled down my forehead as this kick could decide whether we head to Wembley or not. Rafael, MANNONE SAVES. Our fans were absolutely ecstatic, we could not believe our eyes! What a result this was for Sunderland AFC. I was falling all over the seats, and so were my friends. I've never cheered like that before in my entire life.
9000 Mackems chanting after the game, what a sight that was. This is why Sunderland have the best fans in the league.
See you all at Wembley.