1997. A lot can change in 20 years, and even more can stay exactly the same. Back then, football was everything for me. I’d been following Sunderland home and away for 10 years, went to every reserve game, most youth team games, and I was in the Soccer AM 8 o’clock club, for God’s sake.
Every week we’d go round to the SAFCSA shop after the match and book for the next away game, wherever it happened to be. David Rush rescued me when I fainted at Bolton. My mam had a fight with John Fashanu in defence of Kevin Ball. I cried my eyes out saying goodbye to Roker Park, having stood in the same spot with my mam, and fallen on top of the same people during goal celebrations for what felt like a lifetime of shared joy and despair. Stuff like that.
So, on to the Stadium Of Light, everything else stays the same, just a new home to go to. Having met a group of people calling themselves the Blackcats mailing list on the internet, the transition from Roker Park to the SOL brought with it a new fanzine run by one of those new friends – It’s The Hope I Can’t Stand. Too right.
Anyway, I was asked to contribute a few ‘articles’ which mainly comprised silly thoughts, recounts of dreams (…?!), and sometimes reserve match reports which were little more than a few comments on the hats people were wearing and whether or not Alex Rae was in the Ferens Park stands. This exciting new venture justified my weekly attendance at the Charlie Hurley training ground, hanging around talking to the players like an absolute girl… but all in the name of research and reportage, you understand. So as you can see, football was everything, and I couldn’t see that ever changing.
2017. A lot can change in 20 years, and even more can stay exactly the same. I’m a mam now, but still a tomboy. I don’t go to the match very much anymore and gave up my season ticket a few years ago – when my children came along, they stole my time, my energy, my money, and my heart. But as any parent will know on the arrival of a second or third child, your love doesn’t have to be spread out more thinly, the space in your heart grows to accommodate all of it.
And so SAFC are still stuck firmly in my heart. Despite the endless disappointments, occasionally anger, and thoughts of leaving it all behind, the little glimmers of joy pop through from time to time and you realise you can never leave.
It’s early days, but the season has started okay, considering the worries we all had about the prospects for our future. I just hope we can have a few of those glimmers of joy to look forward to. I hope. I can’t stand it!