The similarities are there. Twenty years ago we started the season freshly relegated to the second tier of English football on a Friday night, at the Stadium of Light for the delectation of the watching TV masses. We played in front of a fevered sell-out crowd and beat Man City 3-1.
There the comparisons end. In 1997-98, we were there or thereabouts for the whole season, as the previous season’s three relegated sides battled it out for promotion. We missed out narrowly in that epic 4-4 battle with Charlton in the play-off final at Wembley. The following season we used the bitter disappointment of that north London loss to romp the league, setting a then record 105-point total in the process.
Hands up who thinks we will do the same this season?
Hmmm, not many. Then we had the burgeoning partnership of Phillips and Quinn - Summerbee and Johnston were bought to flank each wing and Bally was a rock in midfield, often contributing the odd goal.
This year we ended our mediocre pre-season with a 0-5 home reverse to Celtic’s reserves in a game which was supposed to celebrate our twenty years at the stadium. I saw a tweet which wryly observed that a mere six of the seasons since can be described as better than rubbish.
In 1997, Peter Reid was two years into the job and was well and truly engaged in establishing us as a force in football. Today Simon Grayson was well down the pecking order when appointed; and then only after a number of people had turned down the club. As for playing personnel, we can’t afford an Aston Villa flop and the striker we have signed missed a penalty. We haven’t missed a penalty in a league game since Wolves in 2012! I wonder how long that might continue. Though it might be said, we haven’t been awarded as many penalties as other teams as we don’t get into the opposition’s penalty area as much as they do.
The close-season has been marginally better than last year’s. But we are scrabbling about for playing staff. Why? We’ve been relegated from the most lucrative Premier League ever, we have parachute payments and we have had the transfer of Jordan Pickford to bank.
If Ellis Short wants shot of the club, his marketing skills are in desperate need of brushing up. Because desperate is what this club has become.
I’ve foregone the game in favour of a village barbecue, but I will be sneaking looks at my phone through my fingers. I bet Gary Rowett and his boys will be relishing coming to the SoL on Friday. I hope I’m wrong, but this Sunderland team is anything but ready for the new season.
History could repeat itself, but maybe we should look to thirty years ago for a better comparison. This time three decades ago, we started life in the third tier for the only time in our history. I know which appraisal looks more realistic at the moment.