For this feature, you’re probably looking for tales of how the Lads have always been in my blood, how since day one I’ve followed Sunderland and how special it was for me to attend my first game and fell in love with the club.
My first Sunderland game was as a Leicester City fan.
Through what some would describe as a torturous childhood, my dad brought me up as a Leicester fan. He’d spent his childhood living in Leicester, and so was a big fan, and he wanted his son to be. It just so happened that he worked with (and still does to this day) a Sunderland season ticket holder, who was willing to take us up to Roker for the season opener in what was Division One, as the Lads played off against the team I was told I loved.
It was August 1995. I’d been to a few games at Scarborough with my dad before, but never been to a proper ground or seen a big, established club like Sunderland before. It was a very exciting day for me, my first memory of a long-ish car journey from Scarborough, and my first time at a proper football ground.
We sat in the clock stand at Roker, in with the Sunderland fans (although from what I can remember, there weren’t too many people in the stand at all, most tended to be on the Fulwell), sat well away from everyone else in case I got too excited as a six-year-old away fan in the home end. Naturally, I did, when Steve Corica opened the scoring from 20 yards. I also jumped up (and got told in no uncertain times to "shut up or we’ll get beaten up") when Mark Robins scored the winner for Leicester in a 2-1 win for the Foxes.
My biggest memory, though, was the noise that followed Steve Agnew’s equaliser. I’d never heard anything like it. It was deafening, a little scary for a six-year-old, and I thought it would blow the roof off the rickety stand we were in. It’s a noise that has always stayed with me, and one that I’m now very familiar with.
My childhood football days were pretty good to me, really. In the following two years I’d go end up going to Wembley for a playoff final, attend my first games at Filbert Street, take in several away trips, watch my team win the league cup, and watch Martin O’Neill make heroes out of a group of players who became idols in my young mind.
Sunderland got into me that day, though. After an occasional game or two at the brand new (and very fancy) Stadium of Light, including the grand opening and seeing Status Quo come out of a helicopter), the chance came up to go to more games, using somebody’s daughter’s season ticket. I ended up going to many more Sunderland games than Leicester, and by the time I enrolled at Sunderland Uni, I was much more a Sunderland fan than I was Leicester. My dad is mortified (but has also been in full on gloat mode this year).
It would have been really easy to bandwagon this season, but as I’ve found, it’s nigh-on impossible to give up Sunderland. I’m not a season ticket holder any more, but that’s almost made it harder to break away.
You don’t become a Sunderland fan by choice. It’s almost always fate, and I think my story of fandom is proof of that.