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Why I love Sunderland AFC: #1 - Christopher Sparks - 'It's an unconditional kind of love'

Being a Sunderland supporter is difficult at the best of times. Right now we find ourselves in a period of immense uncertainty - with many of us questioning our reasons for our support - but ultimately we love this football club because, quite frankly, we cannot help it.

Sunderland v Arsenal Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

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For 99.9% of us Sunderland fans - myself included - supporting the club is not a choice and for the most part it's burdensome. However, despite all of this, my love for Sunderland is unfathomable.

It doesn't matter which football club you support, you do so through thick and thin. You can pretend that you're past caring about it, and you may stop going to games, but ultimately the one thing that dominates your thoughts more than anything else is your football club.

It's the first thing you talk about at work on a Monday morning; it's the first thing you seek when you buy a newspaper and turn to the back page. Supporting your football club can be taxing, and is quite often frustrating, but ultimately you do it because you're trapped - you're conditionally in love and there's nothing much that you can really do about it.

When I look back to the reasons why I became so obsessed with Sunderland, I think to my memories as a child; I think back to the things that my family did to ensure that was just as fanatic as they were.

My earliest memories are of meeting the likes of Niall Quinn, Kevin Phillips and Thomas Sorensen. Meeting my heroes was perhaps what had me completely obsessed - I really began to fall in love with the club that night and for every thing we stood for.

We were a football club that showed immense passion and determination; it was at a time when there was still a genuine connection between the players and the supporters. We were a club that had managed to retain our immense connection to our working class roots; a club that had ambition and knew just how big we could be if we were able to achieve some genuine success.

I genuinely believed that this was how it would always be, Sunderland challenging for a place in the top six, with a prolific goalscorer, a respected manager and a feeling of stability and promise around the club - but as we all know things soon turned sour, and the rollercoaster ride began.

As I grew older into my teens there were years of mediocrity under Mick McCarthy and Howard Wilkinson - my optimism had been sapped out of me following our two relegations from the Premier League in three years. Quality players were not adequately replaced due to our league status, whilst the Stadium of Light was regularly half full.

Everything changed for me in the summer of 2006, when of course Niall Quinn and Roy Keane arrived at the club. Two simple moves grabbed Wearside by the scruff of the neck and rallied us all together - I was completely obsessed with Sunderland at that point, and by the Irish revolution that was underway in the North East. That first deadline day under Roy Keane where six players came in... what a day. I was glued to my TV. Everything was incredible that season, going from the bottom to the top of the Championship was hands down the best time I had as a Sunderland fan, following Keane and his battling squad up and down the country along with thousands of the red and white army. It was just brilliant from start to finish.

Luton Town v Sunderland Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

I’ve been going to watch Sunderland play regularly with my granddad since the dreaded 19 point season. His tales about the amazing Sunderland teams he has seen over the years fills me with fascination and envy. Stories of watching the likes of Len Shackleton, Charlie Hurley and Jimmy Montgomery - club legends and heroes from years gone by. I used to watch the likes of Jeff Whitley!

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

As I’ve grown older the club has failed to grow with me - years of chopping and changing and despair at our lacklustre performances have done nothing for my health, but my enthusiasm never waivers. Despite our inadequacies since returning to the Premier League ten years ago, my obsession with the club has grown stronger as each season passes, so much so that I travel from Edinburgh for every home match. I often wonder why I put myself through it every week, but it's not something that you can really explain.

They don’t make clubs like Sunderland any more, they don’t make cities like Sunderland any more and they don’t make supporters like Sunderland supporters any more. To fully comprehend what being a Sunderland fan is about, you need to be a Sunderland fan - it’s in our blood and our being, and constantly unites us in one way or another.

In essence, that is why I support Sunderland. It represents every single aspect of my life and for as long as I am alive I will be there to support my team, just like my family have before me.

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