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Why I love Sunderland AFC #11: Alex McCain - “We're not just another football club - we're unique”

In the eleventh edition of our ‘Why I love Sunderland AFC’ series, Alex McCain explains the mysterious hope that comes with being a Sunderland fan, and why we're not just another football club.

Newcastle United v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

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Sunderland has a soul; a hopeful energy irremovable from it's essence.

To be a fan of this club is to be something beyond a simple connoisseur of football - it's to be gifted with the ideal that you should never stop believing. Anything and everything is possible. A season is never over until the last ball is kicked.

Sunderland is hope. It is hope in its purest form, and it is this hope that devotes you to Wearside. It is this hope that sustains you week-in week-out, home and away, through the most grueling and glorious of times.

It's the hope we can't stand, yet it’s the hope that sustains us.

I don't go to games just to watch one team play another, I've never done that. Once I've waded through the masses and scaled the steps to my seat in the upper half of the South East corner, I never sit down and wait for what the pundits and tabloid columnists expect to happen. I wait for the next chapter of our club's romantic thriller.

It's hard to pinpoint when, exactly, I developed this sense of faith that entirely transcends my sense of logic, and I'd love to be able to relive that exact moment. But while I can't enjoy my own version of it, it's a wonderful thing to witness when it happens to other people who don’t necessarily have such an organic connection with the club.

Sunderland's provision of the gift of hope is a delivery that is wholeheartedly indiscriminate - it can happen to anyone and everyone. Managers, players and fans alike just can't help falling in love.

The managerial instabilities of recent times aren't something we're particularly pleased with, but if there's one good thing that comes from a perpetual struggle against relegation, it's seeing manager after manager perform heroics, with each learning for themselves just how much the hope for success means to Sunderland and everyone associated with this club.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Premier League
It’s the hope that kills you, yet keeps you going. It’s a paradox.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Think back to the mercurially charismatic Paolo Di Canio leading a struggling a side on a run of nine winless games into the Tyne-Wear derby. In spite of the odds being stacked firmly against them, the visitors triumphed emphatically by three goals to nil; subsequently silencing a geordie faithful whose cries of indignation were eclipsed by the deafening roar of an ecstatic away end. Paolo Di Canio; his knees were covered in dirt because his heart was filled with hope.

Gustavo Poyet daring to dream; leading the Premier League's basement club all the way to Wembley and back. The Gus Bus, powered on a formula of red-and-white resolve, running over anything in its way - whether that be Cardiff, Fulham, Chelsea or Man United - proving miracles do happen, so long as you hope.

Dick Advocaat, the little general that could, watching on as the weaker foot of a certain talismanic striker sends the Stadium of Light into wild hysterics. He listened on as the collective voice of the Sunderland people gave the sound barrier a run for its money. Jermain Defoe kissed the badge as ten thousand faces from the West Stand beamed down on him - his heroism stamped into folklore. We drew with Arsenal. We stayed up. Advocaat sheds tears. He believed we could do it. It meant something to him. He hoped, we hoped, we succeeded.

The ideal of hope that lies within Sunderland Association Football Club always finds its way into the hearts and minds of its people. No two stories are ever the same, but every story is phenomenal in it's own way - steeped in equal measures of desperation and hope.

We're not just another football club - we'll never be just another football club.