Whenever I read or write anything pertaining to Sunderland, I like to come out of it feeling more positive than when I went in. There is typically a message that I like to find buried in the tension and the angst and it is almost always about the reasons we have to smile, regardless of the constant disappointment and wasted effort.
After all, supporting a club isn't about winning and supporting Sunderland certainly isn't, it's about shared passion, community, competition, excitement and everything in between. But what happens when it becomes less about pleasure and more about pain? When the insults start feeling personal and no one can do right, everything can and will go wrong.
Yesterday we lost to Middlesbrough and I can hear the death knell. We are five games away from the culmination of five years of failure and everything that has come before now is gone. The performance of the players on the pitch, the attitude and tactical ineptitude of our so-called manager, the inability to beat the one team that aren't any better than us right now.
Let's be realistic here - winning that game would have meant very little. There was never going to be a resurgence in the team, there have been no magical goings-on behind the scenes, no introduction of class or tactical acumen. The biggest change to the team compared to most of the season is Cattermole's fitness and while he is one of the few whose heart can't be questioned, he isn't a great footballer. A decent player, certainly. Capable and fiery, but not a game changer.
So it isn't for some loss of hope or possibility that defeat is so hard to take. It's the manner of it and the reality it slaps you round the face with. Perhaps it was the never ending string of miracle runs that got me. The injection of determination and belief that materialised in a stale habitat when everything looked wrong, nothing landed right on the pitch and tensions between owner, manager and player were tangible. We really have been spoiled these past few years haven't we?
Now that stale, tangible tension isn't going away. It's palpable at the games, on the terraces, for every group of fans. Even if you've somehow convinced yourself that abject humiliation at the hands of Ellis Short and David Moyes, men that will never relate to you or understand your love for the club no matter how much you wish them to, is a fair sacrifice for this much anticipated 'stability', you must feel it too. If you spend free time arguing with people that hate what is happening at the club right now, it's bringing you down too. None of us are happy. And that's an awful thing, isn't it?
I sit sometimes and let my mind drift back to the last time we were in the Championship and I realise that my emotions then compared to this season are staggeringly incompatible. I remember the drive and momentum that surrounded the squad and management, I remember the hope and belief that we had as fans. It wasn't expectation or even ambition, nothing so selfish as that. We only want heart. Heart is all there is to this game. You can run ten miles never losing the ball, you can move around the pitch like your feet don't even touch the ground and you can rise like a salmon all the way to the fucking clouds but without that heart you are nothing. No player, no fan, no man is bigger than this club and all I see when I look on that pitch is a bunch of irresponsible losers that feel they deserve anything else but to be in this mess.
I'm remembering promotion. An ownership led by one of our most beloved patrons, Niall Quinn, and a squad forged in a tempest by a fiery Roy Keane and his Spartan-like regime, a warrior caste of players - the pride of an entire city embodied by the hard-fighting ethic of a club that knew itself.
There is a place in Sunderland called the Stadium of Light. This place, like most, has an entrance and in that entrance is a magnificent work of art in a gilded, golden frame. Polished marble floors and elegant walls lend it light, individual pieces of carved ivory hold the names of the players – it's a thing of beauty and if you haven't seen it I advise you to steal a glimpse on your next trip. "Sunderland v Aston Villa 1895". It was commissioned by the club and is one of the oldest football paintings in the world, depending on the context. It virtually screams success and, for me, is one of the proudest symbols of our club's heritage.
What a lie those men have made that today. What a shameful vigil to have to hold, to be watching these actors - Ellis Short, David Moyes, the lot - as they walk in to that place and lay claim to something they don't deserve. There's a belief: that one can never really "own" art – it belongs to the observer no matter where it lies, a gift from the artist to the world. That is what Sunderland is to me – it belongs to the world.
I look now at the aftermath of a miserable change in fortunes and I feel like the biggest fool, when a line of men in masquerade have promised the world and delivered nothing but dirt. I look at that miserable, passive-aggressive imposter standing on the touchline and it makes me want to retch. I see a squad of old men with no heart and little boys with no spine. Men with less talent, less money and less privilege have worn that jersey and made you feel like the crest was emblazoned on the chest of a fucking superhero but David Moyes and his red and white weaklings have spat on that and that spit was about the best bit of dribbling any of them can lay claim to this season.
But David Moyes is sitting pretty. There is no precedent for this level of protection by the owner of a football club. The divine right of Kings gave a man less job security. God himself could not displace David Moyes right now, all the plagues of Egypt would be as nought to this interloper.
It's been said and it will be repeated: if David Moyes has even an ounce of respect he will walk away now and spare us the foreboding of a future under him. I want to look forward to seeing a proud team running on to the pitch in the red and white, regardless of what league we're in. I want to be able to hope that our manager will have a plan that isn't shrugging his shoulders and lamenting the invisible force that prevents him from doing anything right.
There are a handful of players in the entire Sunderland squad that don't deserve a slap for their part in this charade and to those men I say thank you and good luck – we hardly knew ye. The rest of them aren't fit to tie Kevin Ball's bootlaces.