I often wonder what life would be like if I hadn't, somehow, managed to end up supporting Sunderland. For a lad who was born in Germany and lived the majority of his life in southern England, this constant roller-coaster ride is something I shouldn't really be affiliated to.
Ever since my first game watching the lads back in '97 against Sheffield United, I've been hooked. This bitten-by-the-bug theory is certainly a real thing, and to quote Sir Niall, ‘Sunderland got under my skin... I love Sunderland'.
But what is it that makes the club such an attractive option when selecting which team to pledge allegiance to? With all the negativity surrounding the team currently, it's pleasant to remember why Sunderland A.F.C is a special club.
Much like any football team in the world, we're all in it together. It's not just eleven men on the field, we become a unit and become a 40,000 strong force. Under Peter Reid and, most recently, Roy Keane and Niall Quinn, we were that collective that shared a special bond, which the club could be proud of.
North East football may be the laughing stock of the Premier League currently, but apart from a very select few clubs in England, nothing comes close to the passion you can witness inside the Stadium of Light on a Saturday afternoon. Have you ever just stopped and took in the scene when we go a goal ahead in a tight game? If not, I can't recommend it highly enough. The euphorium, the togetherness and the flying bodies are truly a sight to behold. I often compare it to other supporters celebrating for various clubs around the country and I'm often left wondering why are you not going crazy?
It's imperative to realise just how much power the fans can have on the terraces. There have been some fantastic atmospheres inside the SOL; personal favourites being West Brom, when the great escape was achieved, after Michael Chopra's 90th minute winner against Spurs in our first game back in the Premiership and that play-off semi final. Unfortunately, the good days are few and far between, with poison and anger seemingly a mainstay in recent times.
As managers come and go in a scarily quick fashion, we're becoming used to the initial interviews where they discuss the importance of making the stadium a fortress. It's becoming an over used cliché, however, when the SOL is on form, it can be a truly horrible place for visiting teams to play their football. Over the past ten years, our identity has taken a hit and, ever since the later years of Bruce's tenure, a hostile feel has lingered and hampered any attempt of resurrecting the fortress that once backed Peter Reid and his troops.
When Gus Poyet claimed Sunderland fans were ‘living in the past', he got it drastically wrong. He was too focused on tippy, tappy football, playing from the back and beautiful football, but due to that, the club has become littered with soft touches in our attempts to adhere to this policy. Poyet rightly stated ‘you have to be very strong to play here and that's creating a little bit of a problem'. The mistake that he and club made was not buying into the Sunderland way. Martin O'Neil threatened to bring back the Sunderland of yester-year, the high intensity, passionate and leaving it on the pitch philosophy that spurred on and orchestrated the Stadium of Light. With Sam Allardyce, we have another chance of that happening. If the fans can give him the time, the players can buy into the Sam-style of football, show the tough tackling, playing for the shirt intensity that the supporters crave, the cauldron's dying embers will soon return to a steady fire that can make Wearside the daunting away day it once was for clubs up and down the country.