It looks like last week's appeal for more people to send in their tales of their first Sunderland game worked, as here we have what will be the 8th installment of the series, and it comes from Sunderland fan Michael Lough.
Michael takes us back to 2003 for his first game, when he was a mere 7-year old, wildly cheering on his favourites of the time, Kevin Phillips and Julio Arca. Nowadays Michael is a 16-year old student from County Durham, and is set to move to the South Stand next season along with many others who'll be looking to create a great atmosphere at the Stadium Of Light. He's looking to get into media work too, so if you've got an opportunity available, contact him on Twitter @Loughysafc01
Now then, let's pass you over and relive a young man's first Sunderland experience...
Well, if ever a game was going to set me up for a lifetime of supporting Sunderland AFC, then this was the ideal one. This was my first ever Sunderland match, which I had been eagerly anticipating, ever since been conned into thinking that I was supporting a good team after watching our 2-1 victory over Liverpool on the TV just a few months before. I can still remember spontaneously jumping up and down like a deranged lunatic when Michael Procter of all people netted the surprise winner, from this moment on I had nagged my parents to buy me a match ticket for a game, and officially condemn me to a lifetime of disappointment, heartache, and agony which is part and parcel of being hooked to the drug of Sunderland AFC. So when my school received cheap tickets for the Charlton Athletic home game I naturally jumped at the chance to go and watch my newly adopted idols in the flesh.
The anticipation I felt in the build up to the match was incredible, I recall vividly sitting in school the week before that paying even less attention than usual to my lessons and other such trivial matters. All I could think about was Saturday's match. I had gone over every single possibility in my mind in terms of how the game could go, as a seven year old my knowledge of football was negligible, however I knew that we were in huge trouble at the wrong end of the Barclays Premier League table, and we desperately needed a victory to keep our heads above water. However despite this in my naïve mind I convinced myself that we would indeed gain the win we so badly desired, and a dream I had the night before the game which involved a 90 minute Kevin Philips winner only strengthened the blind faith I had in the lads to secure victory.
I can recall little of the match itself, but what I do remember was the special match day feeling which I still get now after 8 seasons of regular match attending. The butterflies started when before departing for the Stadium of Light my Granddad presented me with a retro Sunderland scarf, with the words Roker Park proudly printed on it. This gave me a true sense of belonging, and tribalism. Next the traditional crossing of the Wearmouth Bridge and seeing the stadium getting nearer as I walked along Millennium Way sent my heart racing. This was it. My first ever game. But what got under my skin the most was the combination of run out music, Dance of the Knights got my teeth chattering, and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and Ready to go got me so fired up I felt like sprinting on to the pitch and having a go myself. It was a truly amazing feeling. As I say my recollection of the match is hazy to say the least, but I can just remember thinking "God we are crap." Witnessing three own goals in one game was the worst possible start to my Sunderland supporting life. Even the consolation goal from my idol Kevin Philips did little to lift the gloom.
What did stand out however was the atmosphere at the game that day. The word incredible doesn't begin to do it justice; most teams at three-nil down would boo every touch and get on the players backs. But not our fans on that day. Wise men say was sang throughout the second half along with loud renditions of Sunderland ‘til I die, and various other chants. This drew spontaneous applause from the stunned Charlton Athletic fans. My favourite memory from the whole game was midway through the second half. It had understandably got too much for one Sunderland fan to bear, and he stood up and marched round to the dug out, throwing his season ticket booklet at the hapless Howard Wilkinson. Although it missed it's intended target and almost knocked Steve's Cottrell's notebook out of his hand. The fan was then escorted from the stadium, and whilst this was taking place the whole ground rose as one, and pointed at him, and shouted "one lucky bastard, there's only one lucky bastard" before breaking out into defiant chanting once more.
For me this is what supporting SAFC and following football is all about, often what happens on the pitch can border on irrelevance. But it's the banter, and camaraderie on the terraces, the unity in times of adversity, and general banter more than makes up for the bad times. That day for me sums up what it means to be a Sunderland fan. We may not be world beaters, but we are Sunderland AFC and nothing can take the pride we all have in our team away from us, we will keep coming back week after week for more punishment, but these bad times make victories and success all the more sweeter. This game shaped me as a Sunderland fan, and I wouldn't change my team for the world.