I've supported Sunderland basically since the day I was born. My dad was born in Ashington, about mid-way between Newcastle and Sunderland. Apparently, he was closer to Newcastle so he should have supported them, but thankfully, he picked the better team. My dad moved down to Portsmouth because he was in the navy and unfortunately he passed away when I was 6, but I've always continued my love for Sunderland AFC.
It's a difficult task going to games when you're a eleven year old kid living 324 miles away but come April 2007, I finally got my chance.
Southampton were still in the Championship after being relegated from the Premier League a couple seasons before and we were down there after an awful season in the top division under Mick McCarthy. Unfortunately, my step-dad was a Southampton fan so my sister and I had to go with him and his sons in the Saints end. I didn't care too much, I was still so excited to finally see my team I had always watched on the television up close.
We traveled to St. Mary’s on a Monday evening. It was nerve-wracking to say the least. My step-family and all of my friends at school were Southampton fans and they seemed pretty confident about winning. I didn't know what to expect. When we arrived, I remember thinking how small the pitch looked and how strange it was to see the players in person. I had only ever watched a football match on the television so going to a match was such a different experience.
Things were pretty average in the first half, we had some chances but I still felt nervous. Our awful start to the season had been turned around by Roy Keane and a win would send us to the top of the table. Not only that, but I'd have bragging rights in the house for years afterwards, as the matches are almost like another derby in our family.
In the second half, things started badly. Southampton scored a decent volley with about twenty minutes to go. Everyone around me jumped up and started cheering. My step-brothers and step-dad were looking around at me, laughing and I was fuming. I refused to stand up and clap because I'm so superstitious about football. I thought that if I did, we would definitely end up losing because I was congratulating the opposition.
Ten minutes later, I couldn't believe my eyes. Carlos Edwards scored an absolute screamer from 25 years out and I was ecstatic. My mum turned around and glared at me not to cheer, I had to just grin until my jaw ached and do a kind of fist pump under the seat – I could barely contain my excitement. If that wasn’t enough, with just three minutes to go, Grant Leadbitter also went and scored a screamer from twenty-five yards out.
I wasn't sure if he had actually scored. It was hard to get my head round the fact that we had scored two magnificent goals to come from behind, until I looked to the right of the goal and saw the away end. I always remember Leadbitter running up and knee sliding into the corner flag in front of our fans. We won 2-1, we went top of the table and it was my turn to laugh at my step-family. The journey home was great.
It was the best first Sunderland match I could have hoped for and I will never forget it. Unfortunately it’s the first and last time I’ve seen us win! I try and go to as many games as I can each year – this season I’ve been to two at home and three away – but it’s only ever been draws and losses.