My childhood consisted of two very important things: Sunderland AFC and The Smiths. The smell of the Fulwell End and being put on those little red bars with the words ‘Welcome To Sunderland’ were akin to the buzz and ripple of goosebumps that appeared on my arms the first time I heard opening chords of The Queen is Dead. It’s a bit odd, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that our club and The Smiths are very much alike.
Around this time last year, the levels joy of at the club were up there with the confidence and swagger found in the wake of consecutive seventh-place finishes. We had This Charming Man by the name of Sam Allardyce managing a team full of character, mettle and organisation. A man who understood the plight of the terraces and sought to make it better.
He had bought the beast that was Lamine Kone and paired him wonderfully with the experienced and battle hardened Younes Kaboul. Like a modern day Mozza and Marr - everything seemed to stem from their consistent and solid performances. Add Jan Kirchhoff in midfield and some might say you’ve got your very own Mike Joyce - keeping things simple and easy but making it so beautifully effective. Whilst Wahbi Khazri was the least revered of the three January buys, Andy Rourke or any good bassist before him would tell you - without him, the whole thing would not of been as good.
It was “good times for a change” at the SoL and with Euro 2016 being a mere distraction from our excitement of the new season. It was less of the hope of "please, please, please let me get what I want" and more "Big Sam, take a bow". But of course, as Harry Kane stepped up to take corners for England around mid-June and England were eliminated by a gutsy Iceland team - we all got that sinking feeling that Allardyce’s desire to take the job of the national team meant he would have to say "I started something I couldn’t finish" (you see where we’re going with this now, right? Good.) Our fears were confirmed after what seemed like a drawn out set of negotiations and off he went to pastures new.
But as David Moyes walked onto the pitch at Rotherham in pre-season, with all his experience, tactical nous and with point to prove, it began to feel like the structure Big Sam had left could be carried on by our new Glaswegian Messiah. What Difference Does It Make that he failed at Man United, look what he did at Everton! We all cried. How wrong we were.
He did start the season in record breaking fashion albeit not the kind we had in mind; and that miserable start was compounded by our complete fuck up in the purchase of fan favourite, Yann M’Vila. His loving Instagram posts going from heartbreakingly sad to downright depressing. You could of quite easily played any Smiths song as a soundtrack to them. Perhaps "it's not my home, it's their home, and I'm welcome no more" summed up the whole bloody situation. However, as we continued with our horrific start to the season, in true Sunderland fashion Big Sam managed to get himself essentially sacked from his dream job after only 67 days. Some fans cried for Ellis Short to let bygones be bygones and “return the ring” to the former England manager. Rather typically though, Sunderland’s fortunes continue to spiral.
A slight improvement did come however, as Victor Anichebe became The Boy With a Thorn in the Side to Hull, Bournemouth and Leicester City. But it would all come crashing down within weeks, ceiling and all. A good chunk of the fanbase remained on the side of the former Manchester United manager though. He could surely still turn this around, Old Trafford and all it’s fame comes with immense pressure, after all “fame, fame, fatal fame It can play hideous tricks on the brain” right? He did a great job at Everton, after all! Giving Crystal Palace a good spanking seemed to be the start of yet another great escape, but sadly a team bonding trip to New York was followed up by a 0-4 home defeat to mid-table Southampton, meaning Wearside and, in particular, David Moyes, was very much Still Ill.
Fast forward to today and we are seven games without a goal, managing six defeats in seven. We are going down without a fight - which means it has been no coincidence I’ve made a lunge for my Smiths’ spotify playlist. To top it all off the manager gave us ‘slapgate’. Just when it seemed it couldn’t get worse though, Bigmouth Strikes Again. "Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head" he testified, but the damage was done. “Frankly, Mr Moyes, this position you’ve held, it pays my way and it corrodes my soul”, but it appears there nothing much we can do about that right now, as we all watch our beloved Sunderland suffer again and again. We keep going because “if a ten ton truck killed the both of us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.” Or at least that’s how supporting Sunderland feels. Blind faith and devotion.
But despite these comparisons and the fact there’s a depressing Morrissey lyric that matches my emotions for every single part of this God awful season, it’s worth remembering I always go back to Mozza, Marr and the boys. Because with every crushing defeat that saddens me, with every torturous line I sing from Louder Than Bombs afterwards in search of finding the answer to our weekly woes, sometimes I just have to think to myself “with your standards so high and your spirits so low, at least remember, this is you on a drab day, you in a drab dress” and one day, it’ll all be fine. Because with Sunderland AFC there is a light that NEVER goes out.