But honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact it was my first time at the Stadium of Light, there’d be literally no significance to attach to my first time following the lads. A dour 1-1 draw to Aston Villa some nine years ago. Not much else to say on that.
That’s why I’d much prefer to turn the readers to an older, more interesting story of a first game. Back to a simpler time before a second World War and first FA Cup; when pay packets were smaller but results were bigger.
This isn’t my first story, it’s my grandads.
He tells me, with the elation of a story recounted many times over, the first time he came to know Sunderland AFC. A veteran season ticket holder, standing and sitting in red and white for eight decades on the bounce, how could he forget where it all started?
It’s the late 1930s, talk of the town is Raich Carter and Bobby Gurney, whose faces beam up at the people from Wearside in a smudged tabloid rather than the glow of an iPhone. Another hardy week on Cole’s Cranes is nearly done, its matchday tomorrow.
Young as he was back then, my grandad was yet to grasp a concept of distance on that morning before the trek to the match. He and family wound their way through Hendon, down streets, over hills, across a ferry, and into the roar of the Roker. It’s a lot further than he thought, but he would soon find out it’s well worth it.
Of course, back then standing throughout the game was still the norm. At Roker Park, however, being too small to see over the many mackem heads wasn’t an issue. My grandad describes being hoisted up, not by his dad, his uncle or anyone he recognised – just a fellow fan. The kids sat above the sea of people, surfed up and down the aisles by the fans as the game went on. Complete strangers who wanted the youngest to see the red-and-white army in its full ferocity. Once you’re in that stadium, everyone is family.
And then Sunderland score, the stadium erupts, and it’s unlike anything he’s ever seen. Not a thought to his own safety as the crowd surf becomes a tidal wave, he’s just one of many cheering as he makes his elation known above the heads of those supporting him. But there’s no need to fear anything. There’s a sense of belonging. Of pride. Of identity. Of being at home.
I just had to follow this up with a few more questions to him: who scored on that day? Who were we playing? What year was it?
He looks back, grins, and simply tells me that he can’t remember for the life of him. But that’s not what matters, in fact, it’s missing the point entirely.