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Back in to the Light - The journey ahead

With takeover talks unrelenting and SAFC once more mired in uncertainty, the long road back to the top flight starts here. I've allowed my mind to wander in anticipation of what the picture might look like five years from now...

Sunder v Chelsea
We thought it would last forever...

On a warm and sunny August afternoon, I happily meander over the Wear bridge on my way to the Stadium of Light; the sun’s rays cracking the pavement under my feet.

I’m with my Dad and my son and we're decked out in red and white. It is the first game of the Premier League season, our second campaign back in the top flight and today we play Manchester United.

Ellis Short is long gone and after some significant investment from our new owners it took Sunderland three seasons to get back into the big time, but we got there. We made it to The Promised Land once again. We’ve had to be patient, but it’s been worth the wait.

After securing our league status, we have armed ourselves with some quality signings; a hulking, dominant centre-half and a creative, effervescent little number ten who can craft some magic in the final third. We’ve bought a top striker too, one who almost guarantees twenty league goals a season. Didier Ndong has just been crowned African Footballer of the Year. The squad looks good. It isn’t short of quality.

As I walk I look around me at the masses, making the pilgrimage to their own Mecca. The feel good factor is back; it’s been a while. There’s no more negativity, no more debt, no more underwhelmingly poor signings. No more discord between club and fans.

Sunderland are finally, after years of mediocrity, moving in the right direction.

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

What is this unimaginable utopia that I speak of? Yes, unfortunately, it is just a figment of my own imagination. Blatant, almost arrogant optimism. Our team on the up.

The supporters are happy - happy once again to set foot in their own stadium to watch their own team; the match day experience of suffering as you joined thousands going through the motions until the inevitable happened has long since evaporated.

The day Ellis Short packed his bags marking a new era in the history of SAFC - can you imagine such a time? Think back to the days of Super Kev and Niall Quinn; a passionate Peter Reid, free-flowing football, goals of all types from players all across the park - a united squad winning matches as the opposition were simply blown away.

As we descend upon our first Championship season in eleven years it all seems a million miles away at the moment, doesn’t it?

In the wake of a prospective takeover and the knowledge that Mr Short may indeed be on the way out, the whole seemingly endless saga has indeed allowed my mind to wander towards those happier times. In recent days I’ve daydreamed about that Kevin Phillips volley at home to Chelsea, Quinny’s double against Spurs, the wins at St James' and regularly mixing it with the best teams in the country. I took it all for granted. I thought it would last forever. We had finally reached these heights and had a team to be proud of, surely it would always be this way? It’s been nice to reminisce.

Even listening to my Granddad this week: he speaks of days when Sunderland boasted a forward line containing Shackleton, Ford and Broadis; all full internationals. Great stories, but there was always a typically sinister twist at the end. Sunderland threw away the league in 1950, beat Newcastle 2-0 at St James’ in the ‘56 FA Cup Quarter Final, only to lose in the last four to eventual winners Manchester City. Those were the real glory days, authenticated by a prolonged stay in the upper echelons of the then First Division.

Those days, the Bank of England club was the moniker, and yet the trophy cabinet remained bare. We’ve won one domestic cup in 80 years which, for a club of our size, is an absolute travesty.

1949 LEN SHACKLETON
My Grandfather's hero, The Clown Prince himself, Len Shackleton

We possess so much potential but that’s all it’s ever been. It has remained unfulfilled. My Granddad probably sat in pubs and clubs and said the same things about Sunderland as we all say now. That cycle has never changed, so why do we think that a takeover with will change anything this time around?

Now that Fulwell73 have pulled out of the race to buy the club, who is to say that this German consortium looking to purchase our club are any better equipped than Short to steer us in the right direction? I'm treating it all with caution, purely because of how bad the situation has been under Short's ownership.

I understand that for some such times are exciting: something to look forward to and be optimistic about, which is absolutely fine. I’d ask people to be a little more reserved about the aspirations of any potential new owners though. They will be faced with the same problems we have currently and due to Financial Fair Play and other variables, money cannot and will not be thrown at the situation. Anyone who thinks otherwise is very much mistaken. If anything, we as a club have proved, in the last six seasons at least, that quick-fire spending yields little in the way of success - we’ve just about kept our heads above water in that time.

A more structured, patient and organised plan going forward is certainly the path that the club should take. That however, is something that the current regime have found notoriously difficult to achieve.

Sunderland v Liverpool - Premier League
Will being under German ownership prove more fruitful than under Mr Short?
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

It would appear that we are now at something of a crossroads. The very near future will determine whether we are under supposed-German ownership, or if Ellis Short himself pulls the plug on negotiations, he remains at the helm.

I think we all hope for the former, purely because it hasn't worked out for the American billionaire during his time here. Whatever the outcome, there is a massive season around the corner for everyone connected with Sunderland AFC and we are already way behind in our preparations.

We can still make headway though. The release of the fixture list has thrown up a very tough start - Derby, Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds are all teams that I expect to be in and around the promotion picture in May. When we kick off at home to Derby in August, who the club is owned by, which manager we hire and the players we sign will obviously be imperative. It has to be done right for everyone connected with SAFC. A sound platform must be built this summer. It feels like a genuinely critical period in our modern history. We as fans need to feel happy, satisfied, positive and optimistic. Hell, we just want a team to be proud of. It is highly doubtful that we'll ever see the likes of Shackleton, Ford, Quinn or Phillips ever again on these shores, but it is by no means impossible. To put the club back upon the pedestal to which it belongs, the hard work must start now. We might never experience our 'perfect day' in the sun, but I'm certainly going to enjoy the journey striving to get there. If we can't allow ourselves to dream about Sunderland AFC, what else is there to dream about?