I often think, whilst sitting in my kegs at my home in Glasgow, why do I travel week in week out to watch Sunderland?
Why is it I almost literally go into a state of depression somewhere between mid-May and late July, bemoaning the lack of Sunderland-related news?
I come up with scenarios in my head of why it happens so often. Was it the time my Dad walked me into the Fulwell End at the age of 7? Maybe. Was it Phil Bardsley scoring against Manchester United? Probably that. Is it just getting to spend time with my mates, building relationships over a common bond? Aye, probably some of that too. But as I sit here ready to count down the five-day week that I haven’t even started, I am drawn to a pivotal moment in my Sunderland supporting career.
It was August 21st, a day when the sun had more than just his hat on, but his Bermuda shorts too. That sort of weather. It was the opening home game of the 2011/12 season & my house mate I had just moved in with was coming to his first Sunderland match, and boy did Dave like his whiskey. I’m not sure if that date resonates with any of you, but it was the last time Newcastle actually beat us. A day that I have come to hate, one I carried with me for way too long. For a number of reasons.
I was living and working in Newcastle at the time, so there was the stick I received afterwards. The way in which we lost it, having not really played badly, stuck in my throat. That sun, that bastard sun... beaming down on me like it was mocking me. I imagined it saying "look how much fun you could have had if you didn’t support them, you stupid bastard".
It was a dreadful day. To make matters worse, in the week that followed the girl I had been going out with for five years decided she also couldn’t deal with my weekend mood swings and decided it was best to dispatch of my services, releasing me on a free with a little pat on the back. Now I’d love to be the big man about all of this, but I was devastated. My week had hit rock bottom. I ploughed myself into my work, praying I would get the promotion I had been fighting for. A fortnight or so later, my housemate, who I named above, decided that due to an ongoing problem with a leak in his house he was selling the flat, giving me a week’s notice to move out. We lost 2-1 to Norwich live on Sky TV on the following Monday. Guess which team Dave supported? I walked into my bedroom to be surrounded by a sea of yellow and green with chants of On the Ball City ringing in my ears.
I remained in this state for a number of weeks. Sort of getting out of bed because I had to, whilst also drinking copious amount of liquor and house hunting. Finally, a day out at Bolton - a brace of late goals gave me some respite in my deteriorating personal life as we won 0-2. But, only hours later, I found out that the Managers’ job I had worked to earn for over a year was given to somebody else. Not even Mr Bendtner’s smiling face on Match of the Day could cheer me up, as I supped on warm beer I had found in my new rented home inside the broken refrigerator.
The following week, I sat and prayed to the Gods that nothing would go wrong. Perhaps most importantly, Steve Bruce’s faltering team would win a game at home. I even put a bet on. I placed £40 on Sunderland winning and Seb Larsson getting the first goal. When the beautiful Swede smashed home after 7 mins, I thought Bob Stokoe might have been looking down on me favourably. 85 or so minutes later and Franco di Santo was tapping into an empty net to send 40,000-plus fans into a fit of rage as they demanded Steve Bruce took his rotund stomach to the boardroom, and got told to sling his hook. I stood there in my South West Corner seat in desolate silence. Why did I love this club so? They were literally the only thing I had, yet they were letting me down just as much as everybody else was, if not, more.
Much to the delight of pretty much everyone involved with Sunderland that was to be the last we ever saw of Steve Bruce, as we finally appointed the messiah we had always wanted, Martin O’Neill. As he took his seat for his debut game, I found myself praying the football Gods again to let this be the one, if not just to let off some steam.
That hope quickly evaporated in his first game as Blackburn new boy Simon Vuckevic headed in an early opener to send the buoyant crowd silent. Here we go again. I was already planning on how much vodka I was going to drink later on in the evening in order to forget my football related woes.
We stepped up a gear when a young James McClean came onto the pitch and solely swung the pendulum in our favour. But, as chance after chance went begging, we hit the last five minutes of the match and it dawned on me how unlikely it was that O’Neill’s first game was going to grab us a point, let alone a win.
I squirmed in disappointment – but suddenly out of absolutely nowhere little Davey Vaughan leathered in a 25 yard screamer to get us back on level terms. I went absolutely off my head. I didn’t jump on anyone; hug anyone or even high five a soul. I stood in a Stuart Pearce Euro '96-like stance, grimacing. Punching the air with anger. Letting out every last bit of pissedoffness. My face contorted with pent up anger. If someone had seen me, I think they would have been inspired, if a little scared. It was a moment of sheer raw passion I remember with aplomb. As the Stadium roared the lads on, we won a free kick on the edge of the box with literally thirty seconds of added time to go.
"He’s going to score this" , I said to my neighbours Barnsey and Paul, as Seb Larsson placed the ball down.
We all know what happened next.
This time, I did celebrate like normal. I hugged my mates. I punched the air and pointed to the sky in homage to my prayers being answered by the Gods of football. I stood on my seat and lifted my hands above my head. I sang Wise Men Say like my life depended on it. I had gotten my identity back. Sunderland had won and I had shared a moment of sheer ecstasy with forty-six thousand fellows mentalists who go through God knows what on a weekly basis, yet always come back to this place on a weekend.
And that’s when I remembered why I need this God damn son-of-a-bitch football club in my life. We all live a bloody hard life sometimes. Things get in the way of your happiness and situations can knock you down. But no matter how much this club can piss you off for weeks on end, no matter how many times you sit in a coach coming back from a 3-1 defeat to bloody Southend United, no matter how many Darren Bent-type mercenaries come and go, Sunderland AFC can lift you to levels of joy like nothing else can.
And that, sometimes, is all a person needs.
To Saturdays, Seb Larsson free kicks and the eleven men in red and white - I love you.