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Can we, the Sunderland fans, become the twelfth man once again?

It’s been a long, hard slog downhill for the Sunderland faithful, and no one would blame you for being tired. But more than ever, we cannot fail now.

Brentford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

When it comes to the topic of football support and how pivotal it can be to the success of a club, a lot can be said for Unity. In the case of Sunderland AFC, a lot has been said.

I haven't been the most complimentary of critics when it comes to the club's public relations campaigns. I did – and still do – question the absurdity of trying to manipulate the Wearside faithful with slogans and kindly reminders of their heritage in the pursuit of shirt sales - I found it all to be just so much rhetoric.

When results aren't coming and big, ugly decisions are being made at executive level that don't appear to benefit the club in any way, you can't help but feel a little disillusioned, apprehensive even.

But for all of that, it can at least be said that on some base level they were right. Because not only are “unity” and “togetherness” powerful and emotive tools for the wordsmiths among us, they are in fact absolutely necessary ideals, and they have driven far greater things than a football club to success during the long history of our society. But speaking specifically as we are about football, and this football club, I believe it's time to once again bring those ideals to the forefront of our minds.

Sunderland v Everton - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Granted, since the departure of Simon Grayson it would be unfunny to suggest that we've somehow improved. Performances under caretaker manager and academy coaching veteran Robbie Stockdale have hardly set the league alight, though it's by no means an indicator of his true ability in management.

Giving the squad to a caretaker and expecting success is like trusting a sandwich artist to run the kitchen of a Michelin rated restaurant. Of course, I'm sure no one at executive level expected Stockdale to turn the season on it's head, but you'll agree that we all breathed a slight sigh of relief when it was revealed it wouldn't be someone of his relative inexperience and anonymity in the game taking control of the team long term.

For my part I was convinced it would be an appointment like that, that we would finally succumb to the self-inflicted fallout of piss-poor fiscal management over half a decade, and admit that we couldn't afford to hire a decent manager even if we took Rodwell back to whatever prototype crash dummy factory he was forged in and demanded a refund. I didn't allow myself to believe for even a moment that we would be able to improve upon another journeyman in Grayson.

Consider that for a moment: two and a half years on £750k a year is more than our transfer spend in a window that saw us preparing for our toughest challenge of recent years - just conceive of that for a second. The reason we spent so little during that window is because we had no money to spend any more, so it stands to reason that this appointment has almost certainly been made at the discretion of the owner and, in a very real sense, almost directly out of his own pocket.

Invest in Africa/AFC Sunderland Event Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

I suppose for that we should perhaps doff our caps to the owner, somewhat begrudgingly. In spite of what seemed to be clear attempts to distance himself from the club as we spiralled out of control, the interview he shared with us some weeks ago seems to have been just one stage in a plan to throw those dice one last time.

With the acquisition of an accomplished and respected manager in the shape of Chris Coleman, Ellis Short has gone some way to proving his doubters (myself included) wrong. We'll see what the future holds there but at least there is a glimmer of hope, and a demonstration of pure intentions from the man we had begun to believe was abandoning us to a fate he failed to avert.

Back to my point; unity, and being told to “unify”. Telling someone to be “united” is like telling someone to fall in love – it's an impossible demand and is unfair by it's very nature. Not only that, but the demand itself is then made all the more absurd for the fact that the one giving you the order is the one that you struggle hardest to relate to, and they to you.

When the cause of your angst demands you pull yourself together and follow their lead, it is in your nature to rebel and say 'no'.

And so when Sunderland AFC turned to a fan base they had unwittingly conspired to divide and ordered them to piece themselves back together off the back of a few cheap words, they were rightly told where to go.

Some of the less informed amongst the media and punditry that attacked Sunderland's fans for their righteous ire are of course ignorant to the trials and tribulations of the average Sunderland fan. On paper, everything can be blown out of proportion and very often that's exactly the purpose of tabloid journalism. The truth that is hidden to these men and women of that ilk, those that blindfold themselves in their quest for a bit of cash and a quick audience, is that Sunderland remain some of the most unassuming, patient and resilient fans in the footballing world.

There are very few bases expected to accept scandal after humiliation after embarrassment after scandal, and still pay their direct debit for a season ticket. Yet Sunderland fans do. After all, it's been said that there is a thin line between love and hate, so similar are they in focus and magnitude. It's rare that you become so angry with something you don't care about, that you storm away from it when it effects you.

I personally think that we all still believe, even through these torrid times, in unity.

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

We all still feel united. Not through any slogan or wishy-washy photo op, but by the sheer fact that this is our reality, as fans. No true fan can throw down their allegiance to their club, and so it was always impossible for any fan to walk away. That they protest by refusing to pay to support a regime they disagree with, and that they are loath to spend their indispensable money on traipsing to the home of a consistently poor team, is only indicative of their passion and love for the club.

Consider the scene now: consider for a moment our new manager – a man of some repute, but without the burden of recent failures and intense media persecution that weighed down David Moyes (and arguably burdens him still). This time is so crucial for the club that it cannot be understated. Our future as fans teeters on the edge of a razor edge and Sunderland AFC as a club stands before a chasm with the winds of destiny raging all around. You can only take so many punches before you eventually go down.

Another wrong turn and this great institution will fall. It will sink into a mire, into a financial quicksand that will keep us trapped for an age before we ever come up for air again.

Make no mistake – what happens at Sunderland over the next 18 months will define the way we follow them in the years to come.

Chris Coleman has been chosen as the man to arrest our fall and lead us forward. This is the Eleventh Hour, make no mistake, and cometh the hour, cometh the man.

For all that Sunderland AFC have hurt us in the years gone by, for all the humiliation and indignities we've suffered as true fans, now is the last chance we have to join our voices to the throng and become the twelfth man on the pitch.

There is no cavalry coming to save us, there is no huge injection of funds, nor is there a masterful tactic that will see us storm through the remainder of the season unchallenged.

We push forward as we are or we get left behind.

Sunderland AFC now stands or falls, and if you had given up on them or given up hope that we have a future to look forward to, I would beg you to stand with them.

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