WE ARE SUNDERLAND - And Don't You Forget It

Laurence Griffiths

The wider footballing world probably won't bat an eyelid if we go down to the Championship. We've lost our identity in a sea of mediocrity. Well, let's reclaim it and make sure everyone knows who they'll be missing next season.

When you think of Sunderland AFC, what springs to mind? As supporters, probably our fans first. We are many in number, loud and passionate, the envy of many a club with a greater chance of success. Secondly, possibly 1973, one of the most famous FA Cup victories in the competition's rich history. Thirdly, probably our success, though most of it came long before any of us were born. Six league titles and another FA Cup were won in the pre-war era and no matter what the league is called, they still count and form part of the tapestry of not only our club, but that of the English game itself.

In the modern era, the things that spring to mind are usually entwined with misery or gallows humour; relegations with record low points tallies, McMenemy and the third tier for the first and only time in our history. There have been positive times too, under Peter Reid in particular, and moving into the Stadium of Light once time and the size of our support had simply caught up with Roker Park.

This is just a small slice of what we, the fans, associate with our club, but how does the rest of the country see us? How do the wider footballing audience recognise Sunderland? If Neil Ashton is to be taken to his word, writing in his match report of Spurs' demolition of Poyet's demoralised team, he said of our impending relegation, "they will be no loss to this league. Not a chance".

Ashton is referring to our on the pitch identity, of course. He and anyone else at the game, or even watching on television, would surely not have missed our once again magnificent support singing loudly to the end, in spite of it all. He's right in a sense actually, those players won't be missed, but surely he'd concede that our support will be. Or would he?

Media narratives dictate that the "best supported also ran" title is reserved for Crystal Palace's posturing, faux ultras and of course our neighbours, Newcastle Utd. Like Liverpool and Anfield, St James' Park is often given credit it's rarely deserving of, with commentators desperate to play up the "passionate Geordies" cliché, hyping up an atmosphere that is barely audible let alone electric.

We seem to have been relegated - no pun intended - to the level of a Southampton or Swansea City but without the "poster club" status for our on the pitch achievements. Essentially, to the wider football world, that makes us close to nothing. We even got berated on BT Sport for having a poorly attended FA Cup game, when it was they who dictated the absurd kick off time and handily chose to ignore that supporters had a ridiculously expensive weekend to pay for at Wembley in the coming weeks.

Even Wembley itself was a fleeting moment. We put ourselves back on the map, with even the players managing an out of character, more than creditable performance. The defeat at Hull the following week and a series of rotten league performances since have begun to erase the memories of that wonderful weekend. The rest of the country probably forgot long ago. In the modern game, only now matters.

Unfortunately, it's nigh on impossible to rewrite a media narrative without a change on the pitch. It looks like will have to occur in the Championship now. This could be an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, give ourselves a new identity by tapping into one that's largely ignored. We should make more of our history, our tradition, not just as fans but as a club.

1973 was an incredible achievement, but it was a one off, a blip in our recent(ish) history. What of our golden era? It may have been decades ago, but it's still part of Sunderland AFC. Why not show our pride in it? Perhaps another statue is needed. There are a plethora of greats from the pre-war era who would be more than worthy of immortalisation with in the vicinity of the ground.

I love the Stadium of Light, but once you're inside it could almost be anywhere. Even the kiosks - though the names were at times a little cheesy - have lost their identities, named as they were after former players. Now they are generic, much like a number of other elements in the stadium itself. Aside from the excellent work of our fans, with some brilliant banners and flags, at your seat there's little to differentiate the place from many other modern grounds. It may not have the history of Roker Park, but it could do with a makeover and I'm not talking pink seats here.

I'm not going to suggest we head down some Americanised route and commercialise the ground with nods to our nickname, but surely something could be done to make the place stand out, make it a little more unique, a little more Sunderland. The place just lacks of a bit of character.

These things can wait. Our status as a Premier League club however, is fast expiring, so let's go out with a bang in the stands at least. Forget the garbage on the pitch, let's make the rest of the country sit up and realise what they'll be missing by losing us. Those players won't be here forever, but we will. That's the essence of a football club, even in these modern, money orientated times.

Even if we go 3-0 down to Everton inside 15 minutes, forget them, those hapless, useless, disinterested, gutless players on the pitch and sing your hearts out. Show the world what we're all about. Then, if or more likely when we go down, let's come back rejuvenated. Kick the apathy, remember who we are. We're not Burnley, Bolton, Blackburn, QPR, Reading or Wigan.

We are Sunderland. Premier League, you will miss us.

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