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Captain's Blog: New Season, Fresh Hope, Endless Possibilities

As we ready ourselves to hop back aboard the good ship Sunderland for what is traditionally a rocky ride, why do I always find optimism is my overriding emotion? Glorious, unfounded, unashamed optimism...

Richard Sellers

Back in my youth, a friend's father was a bit of a career socialite. We all know the type, I suspect. If Frasier and Niles Crane were caricatures of socialites, then this guy was a caricature of Frasier and Niles Crane.

One thing he used to especially love to do was show off his most recently purchased piece of art that was hanging on his wall whenever you popped round to if his son fancied a kickabout. Even your friend not being in rarely saved you from a guided tour of his personal gallery.

"This piece", he would pontificate, "sumptuously captures the essence of the torment of the lonely flamingo, and the savage yet subtle perils of even the most gloriously colourful freedom" - of an oil painting of a sombre looking cow or something.

I liked him immensely.

One day, I turned up and he was particularly excited about something new he had purchased. "What do you think this piece depicts?", he asked me whilst gesturing towards a blank piece of white paper inside a ludicrously elaborate frame. With as much politeness as I could muster to someone whom at the stage I genuinely thought may have lost his marbles to a dangerous degree, I shrugged my shoulders. "It's a picture of possibility", he pompously declared.

To this day I still don't know if he had actually lost his marbles, and I myself have about as much appreciation of art as I have of particle physics, but I've grown to understand where he was coming from regarding the allure of the blank canvas. It has been played out just about every single summer of my life and probably will continue to be every summer I have left.

That is what is so maddeningly enticing about the football off-season. After what we Sunderland fans endured last season, I don't think anyone would blame us if we abandoned the concept of hope forever. I can only speak personally, but it was easily the toughest season I can remember during my time as a supporter.

Yes, we've had worse campaigns, I appreciate that. In fact we've had record-breakingly bad seasons before. They, however, came with the comfort of resignation. We were so bad that you could disengage and simply come to terms with the inevitable. There was freedom in that.

By contrast, last season was just torture. Every time it looked utterly hopeless, hope found a way to draw you back in. From Paolo Di Canio's madness to Gus Poyet's early promise. From the complete failure to threaten Norwich's goal to a superb run of results starting with breaking the Goodison hoodoo and ending with a second demolition derby. From the life-affirming Wembley experience to the brink of the end. From the pull of the abyss to the greatest escape.

Roller-coaster campaigns are nothing new to Sunderland fans either. We are reared on them from the first minute we are daft enough to embrace the club. If Sunderland as a club have a historical identify, then it's endlessly lurching from inexplicable lows to instant highs and back again. That's just what we do.

It was the longevity of the torment last season, though, which really made it test the resolve of even the very best of the best fans the country has to offer. From the moment the opening game against Fulham was lost, there was no respite. That's when Sunderland's fight against the odds started. With every top club in the land next to visit the Stadium of Light in succession, that was when the light at the end of the tunnel began to flicker, often with sufficient a pronouncement to make you sure it had simply vanished altogether.

So this summer I was determined that I wasn't going to allow myself to get swept away by the allure of possibility. That excitement at seeing everything reset to zero; the scars of summer mistakes reflected in the league table for months on end gone in an instant.

Because that is what the summer is for us football fans. It's a blank canvas to be poured over with anticipation. It's an opportunity to dream unobstructed and imagine what could be if may be, just may be, we finally get it right.

Now, as the Premier League season opener against West Bromwich Albion approaches, I'm faced with accepting the fact that I have failed - miserably. Despite my promises to myself to curb my inclination for summer optimism, I can't wait for the new season to start.

Instead of worrying that we haven't signed such and such or haven't solved whatever, I find myself wholly occupied by thoughts of the positives. I can't wait to see the furthering of the radical tactical evolution we witnessed under Poyet at the back end of the season. I can't wait to see the real Steven Fletcher again. I can't wait to see an actual left back that we actually own. I can't wait to hit the Wembley trail and start daring to dream again.

So here is to the start of another new season; to the blank canvas of possibility. Where supporting Sunderland is concerned, the fact it's so seldom fulfilled is quite simply the single greatest reason to embrace it.

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