It was a grey and rainy morning when I opened up a birthday present as a 5 year old and pulled on a Sunderland replica kit for the first time. On occasions, it feels like it's been grey and rainy over Wearside ever since.
I often wonder what it must be like for the new generation of supporters. The ability to watch games on TV seems unlimited now. There is access to every top league in Europe and beyond. Why would anyone favour small time, perennial flops, Sunderland over a Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich? I didn't get an opportunity to watch these teams every week when I was younger and having the ability to do so now serves only to exacerbate the gulf in quality between the major players and ourselves, all very disconcerting indeed for those coming to the club for the first time.
I've come to only one conclusion. Every child searches for a sense of belonging and there's no better feeling than having that sense of kinship, a connection to your own, sharing those community and cultural experiences past and present. There's a lot that can go unsaid in these circumstances and the importance of this can't be underestimated. There isn't a need to provide a back-story, an explanation of what a significant moment of success means to you, not when a team is so intrinsically wrapped tightly around your DNA.
Right back up to date then and we're languishing in despair at the foot of the Premier League without a win so far this season. It's all very recognisable isn't it? A winding wheel of familiarity that we find ourselves spinning around within like a gloomy ground hog day. At a time when football pundit Gary Neville has written about the North becoming even further detached from the Southern epicentre of football, is the inference I've described above still accurate? Is it pertinent to ask why should we still bother? It's clear some are posing that question right now across the city in schools, pubs, clubs and over dining room tables. It's an expensive business supporting a club these days isn't it? Is it worth paying hard earned sterling to witness a team that usually serves up dross week in week out? I've heard some say that. Certainly I wouldn't begin to question people's financial reasoning, but if I may be so bold it isn't about the performance on the pitch, not fundamentally anyway.
Why do we bother? Well I'd assert it's about something less tangible, something so deeply rooted into the fibre of our being that it can't be shaken off by the latest poorly performing prima donnas to wear the red and white. These "footballers" will never be bigger than our club and more often than not won't understand the area or the people. That's our job; our role in the game we love and frankly, if we're honest with ourselves, it's the best and most important part. Keep the faith.