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Ha’way the Lads!
If you don’t question your sanity several times over the course of a season, are you even a Sunderland fan?
Just weeks after a 8-0 capitulation at Southampton I was certainly doing just that as me and a car full of massive lads fans headed to South London for a Monday night televised fixture.
We travelled with much more hope than expectation, we hadn’t won away all season and we hadn’t won a Monday night match away from home on the telly for what seemed an eternity.
I was dreading coming up against a well drilled, hardworking Neil Warnock side with our confidence at such a low ebb. However, as is the case with most away days I was l soon convinced we were the best team in the world and a win was inevitable.
It was little after midday on a Monday and while most people were stuck in work, I had a can in my hand, feel good tunes were playing and we were talking of Sunderland matches from years gone by and the memories associated with them.
Life was good. A brilliant part of following the lads is who you meet along the way, the four of us in the car would have no reason to be friends if it wasn’t for the football but we all talking and laughing on as if we had been lifelong comrades.
A major contributing factor behind me making the trip to Croydon was the relatively low cost of the day. As a student, my match ticket was just £11 and with some excellent early bird scouting from Rollsy we secured train travel from Leeds to London for the same cost. Sure, you had to factor in using the Tube and so on, but one does not simply turn their nose up at that.
After the match all we had to do was catch the 23.30 train from Kings Cross to Leeds before a breeze back to the north east with no traffic on the roads. But more of that later...
For once, the football did not spoil a great day out!
Recent free signing Anthony Réveillère was a revelation on his debut, the giant Costel Pantilimon dealt easily with Crystal Palace’s lofted balls into the box and a Steven Fletcher opener silenced the zany Palace ultras with a deft header into the bottom corner of the net midway through the first half. Of course, it wasn’t all plane sailing and Wes Brown scored a comical own goal to draw the hosts level.
But a Jordi Gomez strike from range put us back in front and Fletcher rounded off the scoring in stoppage time to send the travelling fans into ecstasy.
On tube platforms the Sunderland fans were enjoying themselves, rejoicing in a rare victory. Much to our amusement we were greeted by a platform announcer who sounded much like the twin brother of the Wealdstone Raider.
A few tubes were running slightly late, but it’s fine, it’s London there will be another one coming in a couple of minute, right? Unfortunately not quite, we ended up waiting almost 20 minutes for our connection to Kings Cross.
Suddenly our elation turned to panic as we could do nothing but sit and watch the time tick towards 11.30pm. When our tube rolled into the appropriate stop, the Rocky theme tune may as well have kicked in - well, either that or the Benny Hill song.
As the doors swung open, we set off like sprinters out of the blocks in the 100m final (well in our minds we did) and charged up the escalators like bulls in a china shop.
Our progress was hindered by a jobsworth underground worker stopping us from going through a barrier because Rollsy’s card had been penalised for not clocking out of a previous station. By the time we finally arrived on the platform at Kings Cross, our train was still in the station but the door was shut and they were preparing. We pleaded with the guard to let us board, but he was adamant the train was departing and that was final.
So in the same day Sunderland had won and a London train was on time, who would have thought it? Unfortunately the hat-trick of an understanding cockney was not completed.
So with a stitch, sore calves and a heightened sense of anxiety we discussed plans to get home. Given our financial positions, waiting until the next morning for a train was out of the question, so there was only one thing for it.
Yes, you guessed it... the overnight Megabus.
To say it was the journey from hell would be an understatement - the bus was extremely claustrophobic, uncomfortable and my phone was dead. To make matters worse, Claire, the so far unnamed member of our travelling group that day announced half an hour into our return journey that she hated long distance bus journeys as they made her feel sick.
Shortly after her predictions came true and she had to make a hasty trip to the on board toilets, leaving a lovely aroma in the air on an already stuffy coach. Try as I might I could not drift off to sleep.
Claire had no such problems, she proceeded to slip into a state of deep sleep and snored her head off. Shaun and Rollsy appeared to have the same problem as me and Shaun resorted to using Rollsy’s giant flag as a pillow and ended up drifting off in the isle section. After what felt like six years as opposed to six hours the coach trundled into Leeds bus station.
Unfortunately for Shaun, he still had to drive the last leg of journey on about an hour’s sleep. This included fighting through rush hour traffic in Leeds, and after refuelling with a Maccies breakfast we set off for God’s country.
At around half nine, I was dropped off at the royal hospital, before making the short walk to the student digs in Pallion. The walk which usually took around 15 minutes took me well over half an hour such was my exhaustion and when I finally arrived home, I was greeted by one of my flat mates heading off to Uni with a shocked look on her face and a exclamation of “Bloody hell, have you been fighting last night?”
When I looked in the mirror I saw her point - the circles under my eyes were so dark you would be forgiven for thinking that I had been punched with some force.
So after leaving Sunderland at around 10am for an 11am pickup in Durham I arrived home almost 24 hours later, feeling drained with no sleep and feeling like death.
But still, we can laugh about it now and I saw the lads win away on Monday night so all’s well that ends well.