I’ve seen so many articles about Sunderland recently that make me feel like the sky is falling in. Every article I read seems to be doom-laden, as though fans and journalists alike are channeling the nutters who stand about in parks holding ‘The End is Nigh’ banners.
I’m not an idiot. I realise things have been bad this season and that we are looking relegation square in the face. But I wanted to open a window and let some light stream into the darkness for a moment. For things aren’t all bad and there is plenty we can be cheerful about.
Below I have listed seven key reasons why I think we should remain positive. This article was inspired by Arsenal Fan TV and the hilarious fan reactions that followed their acrimonious exit in the Champions League this week. To Sunderland fans, Arsenal fans have nothing to complain about. They have qualified for the Champions League for an English-record 18 consecutive seasons and they won the FA Cup twice recently, in both 2014 and 2015.
But this got me thinking. Teams like Hartlepool must look at our ten consecutive years in the top flight with envy. And so on it goes down the football pyramid until you are left with Billy in the pub eating his pig snacks and spluttering to anyone who will listen about how lucky South Shields players are to be able to play with Julio Arca every week.
Therefore, I think it’s important to cling on to positivity wherever possible. Here are seven reasons why we can be cheerful.
1) Jordan Pickford
In my opinion, we have England’s best young goalkeeper at our club right now. Not only that but he’s a local lad who clearly cares deeply about this football club. Don’t believe me? Watch again how he celebrates his match-winning saves against Bournemouth and Leicester. He puts Luis Enrique to shame. His performances have improved week on week this season, his progress only halted by an unfortunate mid-season injury. Even if we do have to cash in on him in the summer, we can safely estimate he won’t move on for less than 20 million. Therefore, if player sales are necessary, his sale alone will go a long way to improving the levels of debt at the club.
2) A core of young players
Whichever division we are in next season, we are likely to have a core group of young, hungry players to build a squad around. With players like Watmore, Gooch, McNair, Asoro, Maja, Love, and Ndong likely to stay and players like Pienaar, O’Shea, and Lescott likely to leave, the dynamics of our squad will change for the better. Too long have we relied on a short-term recruitment strategy and – while many of these younger players aren’t ready to start every game – it gives us a better foundation to build on than 34 year old mercenaries (I’m looking at you, Lescott). If we break our recent tradition of signing poorly then, this summer, we can finally build a squad that is designed for long-term success.
3) We’ve been in much worse positions
A common theme in these doom-laden articles is the prediction that we will fall down the leagues if we are relegated this season. Or that the Championship has dramatically changed since we last dominated it under Roy Keane in 2006/07. I agree that the Championship is a more competitive league than it was ten years ago. However, the squad we will most likely be relegated with is infinitely stronger than the Sunderland squad of ’06. We went down with Le Tallec and Jon Stead as our first choice centre forwards, Kelvin Davis in goal, and a supporting cast that included Tommy Miller and Stephen Wright. I remember sitting in the away end at St Andrew’s as Birmingham beat us in February 2006 and listening to people discuss with certainty that it would be years until we could return to the Premier League. We won the Championship the following year.
While no-one can predict the future, I believe that we should be confident of our chances in the Championship if we are relegated next season, despite it being a stronger league than it used to be.
4) Community spirit
Despite all the on-field struggles this season, the community spirit around the club has been nothing short of exceptional. This is exemplified by how the club is rallying around five year old Bradley Lowery as he battles neuroblastoma. Simply put - the way the club have supported and helped this brave little lad all season has made me proud to be a Sunderland fan.
5) Jermain Defoe
And this brings us onto Jermain Defoe. Whether or not you think he is better than Kevin Phillips is irrelevant, we should just be grateful that we were able to swap Jozy Altidore for Jermain Defoe in January 2015. This is the football equivalent of swapping a bag of Wotsits for a sports car.
His goalscoring expoits have been well covered (where would we be without him?) but he deserves huge credit for how he represents Sunderland off the pitch too. His connection and relationship with Bradley has captured the hearts of football fans across the country. Whatever happens at the end of the season, Defoe deserves to be remembered fondly for his time on Wearside.
6) Time since the Mags last beat us
Because it is funny how good they think they are, despite being even worse than us.
At the time of writing, the last time the Mags beat us was 20 August, 2011. That is 5 years, 6 months, and 19 days ago. Or 2030 days. Or 48,720 full hours.
Things that have happened since 20 August, 2011:
· Barack Obama started his second term as President of the USA;
· Donald Trump became President of the USA;
· The UK was part of Europe;
· The UK voted to leave Europe;
· Team GB won 132 medals in total at two separate Olympics;
· The Mars Curiosity Rover successfully landed on Mars;
· Spain won Euro 2012 with Fernando Torres as top scorer;
· The global population has increased by over 600 million people;
· Sunderland have had nine different managers.
7) Ticket prices next season
This week Sunderland announced that ticket prices were remaining largely the same next season, with prices dropping by as much as 60% for under 16s. This is another positive step by the club, bucking the trend of the majority of other English clubs. They have made a commitment to keeping the prices at an affordable level – a quarter of the price of an Arsenal season ticket – and they should be commended for trying to maintain the support of the next generation of fans. Hopefully, in years to come, there will be many more things that we can be positive about.