We Are All Wembley Winners

Michael Regan

Sunderland's fans have long been held in high regard but, on Sunday, the men, women and children of Wearside confirmed just how wonderful they really are. It is something we should all be immensely proud of.

It's been five days now. Five days since our big weekend. Five days since we dared to dream, and five days since that dream was so ruthlessly crushed by a two minute tornado of world class finishing.

Since Sunday evening, and that long, tiring train home, I've wandered around feeling rather odd. For someone who enjoys writing immensely, I've struggled to put the feeling into words. Something different had happened. Something joyous. Something enlightening.

Our Wembley weekend was an incredible occasion. The memories will never leave us. We all have our own anecdotes, our own tales of joy and laughter, our own reactions to the incredible events that unfolded over two days in the nation's capital.

The scenes in Covent Garden on Saturday evening, however blurred they may be by the alcohol that was so swiftly swept from Tesco's shelves, will remain the stuff of legend for many a year. No hooligans here, Mr Halfon. No, we are Sunderland and we are here for a party. A brief wander amongst the masses that night showed not drunken yobbishness nor childish uncouthness; spirits were high and anticipation rife, as a red and white cavalry brought untold merriment to the land of London.

All teams and all fans enjoy a cup final. That shot of glory, that glimpse of triumph, it embeds hope in those that dare not dream and inspires delight in those that for so long trawl from sporting arenas downtrodden and weary of defeat.

But this was different. I am sure that I am biased, yet a gaze down Wembley Way on Sunday morning sent chills down the spine. As opposed to an intertwining pattern of red and white stripes and the azure blue of our opponents, there was only the former. A solid snake of Wearside colour, weaving its way down this iconic pathway to the grandest theatre of them all.

Manchester City, of course, are no strangers to this place now. Sunderland's presence, regardless, was astounding. A wander up from the depths of the underground saw throngs of red and white join together as one, chanting in unison, a veritable family 30,000 strong.

"WE ARE SUNDERLAND, AND WE...ARE...HERE!" boomed a voice in the crowd. An invasion was on its way; the home of England was soon to be swarmed upon by this ever-strengthening pack.

The overriding emotion of that moment, of the day, was beautiful in its simplicity: happiness. Here we were, twenty-two years on from our last cup final, forty-one on from our last grand victory, and it was just a pleasure to be present. There was no animosity. No baiting of the smattering of City fans who dared to traverse through our midst. There was only joy. The snapping of cameras and the hoisting of flags. The guffaws of laughter and the spurts of song.

A wander around the ground invited some wonderful sights. There were fathers and sons and husbands and wives and brothers and sisters and friends, all sharing in the moment, all gazing up at the magnificent structure in front of them, all the while turning over their shoulders and welcoming yet more of our brethren into the occasion. Scarcely a scowl was evident, not even in the pubs, where queues wound their way through the bars and out of the doors. We're here, we're happy.

Inside, the chants ramp up a notch. The teams are out and soon so are the fans, so are countless hats and scarves and so is that enormous flag of ours. Those worries that have plagued plenty in the weeks beforehand - Who will want to stand up? Who will insist on sitting down? Will some people not sing? - pale into insignificance. Today, we are a family.

There is George Johnson, scurrying into the wide expanse, eyes wide in the way only a young child's can be. He commands a startling roar of love and respect from the many who know his story. Even the most stoic of onlookers struggles to hold back those teardrops that have mysteriously appeared.

A cauldron of noise. Borini scores. The cauldron erupts. Bodies are flung with reckless abandon into the rows in front and into our fellow men; screams and roars are yelped with glee; further tears are shed, this time in pure ecstasy. How do we comprehend this? We don't, we just savour it for as long as we can. We're at Wembley and, bugger me, we're actually bloody winning.

We all know what happened next. Stunning quality snatched victory from us. Yet, in a sense, that made it okay. We had not been outplayed nor embarrassed, nor had we failed to show up, as has so often been the case. There was Cattermole, cutting off attacks with all the simplicity of plucking daisies from the lawn. Borini, chasing every ball. Ki, metronomic. Colback, Alonso, Bardsley et al. roaring into 50-50s, with all of Wearside behind them.

The crowning moment, paradoxically, came moments after Jesus Navas sealed the game and ended the dream. The long journey from being two down with fifteen minutes to go against MK Dons had culminated here, and we were crestfallen. So near and yet so far.

So, what happened? Did we fade solemnly into the evening? Traipse disconsolately back to the northeast? No. Didn't you hear us? We are Sunderland. We are loud and we are proud. We are Sunderland and this is our song. 1-3 down in injury time and over 30,000 people are on their feet, making sure the whole world can hear them proclaiming just why they can't stop falling in love with this incredible football club.

Whatever the television cameras may say, the tears of the children aren't the only ones flowing at this moment. This is raw, visceral emotion. We have not succeeded as we had all hoped, but in many ways we have achieved so much more. We leave the ground and, far from being bitter, we hug and congratulate those from Manchester. We've just lost, and we are positively beaming.

I know now what that feeling has been of these past five days. Pride. Sheer, unwavering pride. Pride in my fellow supporters, in the manager, in the players, in the club as a whole. Last weekend was one of the most wonderful weekends many of us will ever experience in following this club, perhaps in many people's lives, and it is a struggle to let go of it quite so soon.

We should all be truly thankful that we were able to share in it together.

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