As I sit here my wife is attending to dinner. This is an unusual occurrence in my household as I'm the resident chef, but I've been baking a giant Jaffa Cake and so can't be bothered right now. Plus I have this to attend to. Anyway, she's given one tub of ready-made sauce and she decides to add another, completely different flavour curry sauce to that which is already cooking. Even though she's been given one packet of sauce and complete, written and verbal instructions, I sit here and just know that my wife will fuck it up. She doesn't do this because she can't cook, and it isn't even related to the fact that she secretly wants me dead, no. No, it's because she isn't focusing on what she's doing right now – she's focusing on what she wants in ten minutes. She's hungry, and her desire for delicious food is perplexing her and affecting her better judgement. To her it doesn't matter that those two flavours will undoubtedly taste horrible, because she's convinced herself it will taste delicious.
She's fucking up my dinner right now, as we speak. I may not even see out the end of this article before it truly takes it's toll.
And I'm reminded of Sunderland AFC.
Getting relegated from the Premier League was humiliating; as it was meant to be. We got kicked out of a league we couldn't handle, against opposition we couldn't defeat. For whatever excuses and/or genuine reasons this club has to be in such a sorry state – in disharmony, feeling disenchanted and near-destitute – one thing we cannot say is that we don't deserve it.
There are a few mistakes made in the top level of football – more than I think any official would care to admit – and so it could be said that had those mistakes not been made we might have scraped up a few more points than we did, but it would be foolish indeed to think for a moment that we could have survived. With that manager and that team, and that chairman and that owner, we were never going to make it. We all knew it in January, and what followed was a sound thrashing.
But when we woke up from the relegation party, thick-headed and with churning stomachs, we thought we knew where we were. Quick were the cries of “I've done it before, you should have been there in blaaaaaaaaaaaah” but it was always thin and smacked of hope more than confidence. Still, we were here and we would kick on and win this thing.
News slowly filtered down of an impoverishment, the likes of which the club hasn't seen in decades: no money to buy worthy players, no money for wages, so deeply in with our debtors that we have to sell our best assets just to keep the lights on. We shrug and keep our own spirits high, we console ourselves that it's only the Championship. We're a huge club, we've got great facilities and a squad of players not good enough for anything more than this division – what could go wrong? Yeah, it would be a hard fight but we'd manage it, with teeth gritted against the prevailing storm.
A few weeks in and we've taken a kick in. There's no denying our squad is weak and fragile, our manager is in need of support and we don't know if our owner wants to bother investing in us before it's too late – but we're still fairly optimistic that change will come. We aren't freaking out, en-masse.
I think that a fair reason for our current malaise can be attributed to our expectations of this division. It's been a long time since we were here, and a lot's changed. We half-watched Newcastle take the title last season and naturally assumed it was incredibly easy, because there's nothing special about that bunch of knuckle-draggers. Trouble is, we didn't piss 70 million away on a temporary Championship squad. Our version of that was setting Moyes loose with his little black book and Martin Bain's inflated sense of self-worth. We bought dross because the men handed control thought they were good, not because they knew they would suit the Championship.
Fact is that we've had a less than fantastic start to the season. It isn't awful, because we've got points on the board and two of our new signings have scored. But it certainly isn't good because we've had our arses handed to us by Barnsley. We clearly aren't prepared for the uncertainties of this division and we clearly unerestimate our enemy. That's what I want to address.
Unlike most Premier League teams that spend a decade up there, our fall from grace should be the result of temporarily poor management at the club. It should be the result of a dozen mistakes from boardroom to pitch that coalesce into an ugly and inconvenient period for us, like a pulsing hangover. Those that govern Sunderland AFC had the opportunity to forge ahead in the football world, and were given that opportunity ten times over, failed miserably, and collected millions of pounds. Funny old world when you're not an insignificant fan, eh?
We need to readjust our attitude when it comes to our opponents. We all understand that with our size, our resources and our opportunities, we really shouldn't be here. But we are here and we need to realise that our opponents are good at what they do. We need to consider that our opponents have been plying their trade at this level for as long as we were struggling at the level above, that many of our opponents are prepared mentally and physically for the demands of this division. We have to consider that their squads were prepared months, if not years, before ours even entered the division. We need to have more respect.
I'm seeing people throwing a strop because of who we're losing to. Leeds was a kick in the gut, a game in which I expected us to show we were ready for a fight. We were made to look like the weak little boys being paid to represent us. Fair enough though, Leeds are a big club and I don't begrudge them the dominance. But when we lost to Barnsley all I saw was a wave of “not BARNSLEY! How could we lose to BARNSLEY MAN!?”
I get it. I feel the pain. But the fact is that Barnsley were the better team. Barnsley have a decent owner, they have a good manager and they have a structure in place whereby they seem to be able to replace their best players when they inevitably leave. Barnsley have an attitude that we should have: they don't waltz around acting like they're the biggest fish in the small pond, they just go about their business. They stuck to their plan, pasted us and went home happy. Good for them. We owe them our respect, because that's what good fans do, they respect each other. And that's something we need to carry forward through the dark days ahead.
Every single team at this level deserves to be here, either because they worked hard to come up or they fucked up enough to have to come down. I, too, dream of a day when we can look at the team's around us, shake our heads and laugh. When we can say “Ah, bless them. They're trying, look.” But that day is not today – it's long in the future. We need to take a breath and wind our necks in because there's nothing Sunderland AFC can bring to the table that this lot haven't already seen. IF we're good enough to be elsewhere, we need to prove it. Personally I believe the first step to glory is humility, and that's something we need in abundance. We knuckle down, we fight tooth and nail for every point and at the end of it all, maybe we'll be able to lift our head's out of the smoke and find that we've fought for a better future for the younger generation of our fans.
We're right where we belong, so let's embrace it.
(P.S. That curry was alright, actually.)