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The perverse enjoyment of watching a failing football team

Like the film that is so bad it’s inexplicably brilliant, watching Sunderland in 2017 is taking on a whole new concept to witnessing live football.

Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Vladimir Nabokov once wrote that life is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Moments pass us by, opportunities are not grasped, acquaintances and lovers fade into the ether and the sound of the party eventually fades.

While the Russian novelist lamented on the speck of time we have on this earth, he inferred that every moment should be cherished. We only get one go at this life and you have to find the small victories in the bleakest of situations, find the silver lining to every cloud and just enjoy things in the moment - no matter how crap everything seems.

This has been my mindset watching Sunderland AFC for the best part of the past five years. I have come to the realisation that this basket case of a club will not bring the joy I yearn. They will not bring the European away games, the pulsating cup runs, the sizzling free-flowing football or, hell, even a normal, routine home victory against mediocre opposition.

Sunderland v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

David Moyes taught me last season that there are much more important things in life to worry about than Sunderland AFC. It built up my utter ambivalence to watching one of the things I love the most. If they win, great! If they lose, who cares? We’ll get up next weekend and we’ll do it all again. Will it be any different? Probably not, but that’s all part of the fun.

Our demotion came with the inevitable drop-off of attendances at the Stadium of Light and while many will bemoan the lack of atmosphere, the reduction in revenue and utter dross on the pitch - I actually quite enjoy it.

The eyes of the world are no longer watching us. Around 20,000 absent Sunderland supporters are no longer watching us and it’s something I am quite at peace with. Spread yourself across four seats in the North Stand and watch a cavalcade of slapstick Championship football. There’s player after player you’ve never heard of and then the occasional “oh, he plays there now”.

There’s a perverse enjoyment of watching something that you know should demoralise you but simply washes over you. Cardiff City have scored again, Leeds United are 2-0 up, Nottingham Forest have won when they came for a draw, boy that Sheffield United are good. Oh look, Lamine Kone has given another penalty away - what a character.

The whole experience is one that is determined to demoralise you, make your blood boil and ensure you go home miserable. I refuse to be drawn in. I don’t want to argue in the pub about how the club is rotting from the inside out or where Adam Matthews should actually play - I’d prefer to laugh at the absolute beanpole Burton Albion have playing up front or our fourth choice right back falling over his own feet.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

I get the impression that I share the same sentiment watching Sunderland as the people who watch NASCAR hoping for a crash. Ten months without a home victory has left me resorting to getting my kicks from watching James Vaughan attempt an ill-advised overhead kick every game without fail. I know that whatever the result I will get no form of reprisal from either work colleagues or friends because they simply do not care.

Supporters will rightly get angry at our current plight. They will direct their ire at the door of the owner, the directors, the manager, the players and they should absolutely continue if that is their fight. For me, however, I simply want to enjoy a Saturday afternoon of football safe in my state of complete ambivalence.

It probably sounds like the mantra of the ultimate passing supporter and that true fans should get behind their team with vocal passion, maybe burst a blood vessel shouting at Aiden McGeady to pass the ball. I’ve done my ranting and raving for a lifetime and now I just want to take our plight with a pinch of salt.

Maybe this is a coping mechanism to stave off some bigger issue gnawing away at me but for the time being I’ll take any form of enjoyment I can out of watching this team. Life’s too short.

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