One of the drawbacks of childhood is a complete lack of say over you own life. You can protest as much as you like but ultimately if your parents decide one sunny Easter Monday that your time would be better spent travelling to the lake district with your grandparents there’s not a lot you can do about it. This is what happened to me as an 11-year-old as Sunderland beat Southampton to top the Championship.
I learnt of this crushing news two days before the match, as I came downstairs from my then routine FIFA binges I remember mam smiling brightly before declaring "Granddad will pick you up at 10 on Monday morning." At the time this felt like the end of the world I knew if Sunderland won we would reach the Championship summit but I was going to be denied the chance to witness this glorious moment to spend a day traipsing around a Cumbrian village, as a massive lads fan himself I would have thought Grandad might have shown more understanding.
After much deliberation and protest a compromise was reached, I still had to go on this pointless journey but I was promised that I would be home in time for the match. Naturally, this didn’t happen so as the lads were kicking off at St Mary’s I was engaging in my own mini version of the Likely Lads episode as I desperately tried to avoid glancing into the window of any pub we passed or making eye contact with anyone. Obviously in rural Cumbria the chances of bumping into anyone remotely interested in the score was scarce but as an 11-year-old, everyone I saw was a potential massive lads fan just ready to tell me the score.
Things didn’t improve when we got back to the car as I faced the most horrendous journey home ever. I had made it quite clear that under no circumstances was the radio to be turned on, and I had switched off my phone in case some bright spark decided to text me a score update. But all the while I knew the game was in progress, all I could do was visualise scenarios I would picture us winning, then losing, then winning again. The minutes seemed to go like hours and as the clock clicked past 7.45 I started to feel sick, that’s it what is done is done we’ve either lost a vital game in the promotion race or we are top of the league.
I arrived home and just about took the door off its hinges as I raced into the living room to put the recording of the game on. At this stage I turned into an amateur psychologist, I looked at my dad looking for signs of joy or despair…hang on, he doesn’t smile. Why is he smiling? We must have won? But he sounds really depressed and fed up, sod this, I give up. So I resolved to just watch the game as if it was live.
After a relatively even game in which the threat of a certain young left back called Gareth Bale was largely nullified by hitting balls in behind for Carlos Edwards to run onto, preventing the Welshman from having the same threat going forward.
But after 67 minutes the hosts took the lead when Marek Saganowski put Saints ahead with a volley from inside the box. But this was a time where you just did not write Sunderland off and ten minutes later they were level curtesy of a trademark Carlos Edwards strike from outside the area.
Sunderland pressed for the winner but they looked as though they were to be frustrated as the game reached the last few minutes. However, the prayers of the travelling support were answered just two minutes from time as Grant Leadbitter fired home the winner from 25 yards out sparking scenes of delirium in the away end.
However, as was in keeping with the day, I couldn’t even fully enjoy Leadbitter’s goal spontaneously, as when the lad from Fencehouses shaped up to shoot my dad smiled and half murmured "top of the league." Family, eh? Who would have them?