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Roker Report are looking for reader submissions as part of our 'Why I love Sunderland AFC' feature. If you would like to pass on your tale of why you love this club, please email us a piece of no less than 500 words to RokerReport@Yahoo.co.uk - we'll feature the well-written ones here on the site!
Why do I love Sunderland AFC?
That’s a good question. It’s one that makes you think a little. There’s not much to love about the club recently, after all.
But that’s the point. Deep down, despite the failing managers, the couldn’t care less players and the seemingly clueless club hierarchy, there’s always something that drags us back in.
It’s the hope that today is our day. The hope that our new manager will finally make us half decent again. The hope that our latest big money signing will not be another flop. Inevitably, that’s rarely the case, but it doesn’t stop us believing or hoping just one last time.
I’ll admit, somewhat shamefully, that I wasn’t much of a Sunderland fan growing up. Supporting the club had been in my family for decades, but there was never much pressure or persuasion on their behalf for me to follow their lead. Instead, I was a Manchester United ‘fan.’ Like many kids growing up, I was drawn to a team that was successful and won things. Sunderland acted as a ‘second’ team – whether you can actually have a ‘second’ team is for another time, but either way, United took priority.
Sure, we went to Sunderland matches and my dad took me to the training ground and so on – I distinctly remember receiving Joachim Björklund’s autograph for some reason – but it was never enough to affect my ‘allegiance.’
But when you start to grow up, you question, “Where’s the fun in that?”
I had no connection to Manchester United. I’d been to the odd game, but I was no better than the thousands of tourists who head to Old Trafford each week. I was a glory supporter. On the other hand, Sunderland fans were relentless in their support through some rotten times. "Why chase the glory?", I thought.
So I decided to commit to Sunderland and support my local team, something that I admittedly should have done from day one. My interest in football was waning at the time, and following a side that I could actively engage with reignited my love for and interest in the game. I made up for lost time and became obsessed with everything Sunderland, immediately purchasing a season ticket for the following year.
Supporting Sunderland was pretty fun around this time too. The Roy Keane rollercoaster ride had come to an end, but Steve Bruce had been appointed to take us forward. He’d done a decent job at Wigan and brought in some good players, not least Darren Bent. We beat Liverpool and Arsenal, drew with United, and beat Spurs in a classic, finishing in a respectable 13th place. We did even better the following season, finishing 10th (albeit thanks to a last day collapse from Newcastle), although we did suffer an embarrassing 5-1 defeat at the hands of our rivals.
Nonetheless, it looked as if Sunderland were on the rise. But then it went tits up. The 2011 transfer window was a disaster, and Bruce had little future after that. Martin O’Neill came in – the boyhood Sunderland fan – and made an immediate impact. His debut comeback win against Blackburn is the kind of moment that you live for as a fan. But again, after an initial bright period, it went tits up.
And thus began a period of consistency, just not the type that we’d have hoped for. New manager after new manager, bright start after bright start, things going tits up after things going tits up. Results got worse. The standard of player got worse. The club hierarchy got worse. The finances got worse.
But the fans, and the great support for the club, endured throughout the trials and tribulations. And that’s why I love Sunderland. It’s the one sunny day after nine days of torrential rain. The six-in-a-row derby triumphs. Fabio Borini against Newcastle. Jermain Defoe against Newcastle. Bolo Zenden against Spurs. Darren Bent’s beachball goal. The ball hitting Danny Graham's arse and going in. Ji against City. The miracle great escapes. The trip to Wembley against the odds. The satisfaction of beating your former manager 4-0 when you’ve been rotten all season. Celebrating like you’ve won the whole thing when you comeback to draw with Bolton in the FA Cup.
It’s the hope that tomorrow will finally be our day. The expectation and belief when you enter the stadium or watch a game, and knowing that no matter what happens, and however many times you curse them, you’ll be firmly behind The Lads the next week.
Supporting Sunderland isn’t easy. It’s not always fun. But it’s certainly a rollercoaster ride, and being so consistently godawful makes those rare triumphs all the more sweet. Let’s just hope that we get to experience some more of them before the season ends.