I remember the Peter Reid years the best - heady days, filled with this tangible sense of excitement that gripped each of us. Passion, pride and positive results had Wearside roaring, even if we did have a bump or two along the way.
The millennium had brought with it this overpowering sense of optimism that little Sunderland were on the verge of something big. I remember sitting in the South-East corner of our new stadium with my mates and our Dads. Every Saturday sitting readily on the horizon; a day potentially filled with pure, unadulterated joy as Niall Quinn, Kevin Phillips and co. tore our opposition to shreds. Of course we had a few good hidings too, but by and large my memories of that time are of a side on the up.
I don’t think I’m begin too romantic when I suggest that the elation of a dominant promotion, and the subsequent 7th placed finishes had fans dreaming of bigger and brighter things. Couple into the equation a new stadium and evolving training facilities, and Sunderland looked destined for greatness.
It all came crashing down eventually and our struggling side was forced to sell its best assets in an attempt at balancing the books. A black hole had swallowed us, and things looked rather bleak on the inside. I can distinctly remember the sale of Tommy Sørensen hurting me the most; he was my idol growing up, and his departure really hammered home the woeful situation in which we found ourselves. I was gutted, as were the rest of the fans who had seen their hopes and aspirations cruelly swept out from under their feet in a matter of months.
But somehow the optimism returned rather quickly. Was it a sense of superiority forged in those earlier Premier League seasons where we showed the big boys we were a force to be reckoned with? Or was it the manager who had the lads playing well, encouraging us with his words and their performances? Somehow after a summer of abject misery, things were back on the up.
Even the subsequent yo-yo years had me feeling upbeat every time we dropped down a division because we still looked like a side more than capable of getting back up to where we belonged. I don’t think we ever really accepted the mess we were in back then, or maybe we were just lucky to find hope through our impressive results? Yet for whatever reason our ambitions remained intact.
Of course a takeover and the subsequent period of Premier League stability had us all content, but somewhere along the way we seem to have lost that ambition as a club. That fizz of optimism that was always to be found somewhere has somehow dwindled into monotony as fans have become more and more apathetic with the club and its performances.
Right now there just doesn’t seem to be any hope - and we’re almost a quarter of the way through the current campaign. We don’t feel dominant, and that blind ambition that gripped us in the past has been replaced by this incredibly depressing sense of lethargy. Everything seems to be going wrong, and there’s no end in sight.
So have we lost our ambition? Have we just accepted this newfound status of painful mediocrity?
To me, it feels as though we’ve accepted our position as a club content with mid-table security in the Championship. For the life of me though, I can’t understand why. It’s a question that I just can’t find the answer to: when did this club decide that it would sacrifice ambition for uninspiring indifference, and how can we change it?
We’re in debt. But we’ve been in this position before. We’ve been relegated after a poor season of football. But we’ve been in this position before. We have an owner disliked by many who is actively looking for a way out. But we’ve been in this position before.
There’s nothing new about our woes except the apparent loss of ambition as a club. Who’s to blame for this downward spiral into indifference, I don’t know. But ultimately it’s really concerning that we seem to be content with this level of mediocrity.
Someone or something needs to bring back the hope and desire for success, and signal a statement of ambition for a side lacking in belief. Right now, however, that glint of aspiration and hopefulness seems a long way away.