It's good to be back, isn't it?
Back watching the lads; back debating with family, friends and colleagues about our club's fortunes. Back in the thick of it all, the hustle and bustle of football. I've been riding the crest of a wave this week, which is bizarre really, because we didn't even beat Derby last Friday night.
A draw coupled with an encouraging performance can do that to a man. As bad as it sounds, I've almost loathed watching Sunderland play for so long now - it'd become almost a chore. That feeling has certainly lasted months, maybe even longer. All those feelings of disdain and frustration have been swiftly blown away by what I saw on Friday.
It's great to get to feel like this again - heaven knows what I'd be like if we'd won. I'd forgotten entirely what it was really all about; loving Sunderland all over again. By that, I mean REALLY loving Sunderland all over again. Appreciating what a special club it is that I support.
For us, the summer brought with it uncertainty and worry, but as the weeks have trundled by, the dawning of the season it has also brought excitement and unforeseen positivity.
Such things set the mind whirring. I'm writing this while watching The Super Cup between Real Madrid and Manchester United, In Malaysia, in a quite frankly, strange, subdued atmosphere.
Bizarrely, but somewhat unsurprisingly, it is the second time that the teams have met each other in pre-season (for me, and for the record, the Super Cup is no more than a glorified friendly). It suddenly dawned on me that I think I've had my fill of this type of 'event' in the football calendar. Those feelings have suddenly came to the boil. The money-making friendlies, the tours of Asia, the projected '39th game', the ripping apart of football's soul. Nothing is sacred anymore. Everyone and everything is up for auction if the right price can be found.
£200m for Neymar anyone? Or how about a Dafabet Cup? I wonder how the fans of these sides feel. The real fans I mean; supporters of United, City and Liverpool. In recent years, Man City have morphed into a juggernaut in footballing terms, the club looking unrecognisable from 15 years ago. As a fan, how does that alter how you perceive your own club?
The club, in essence is still there. In bricks and mortar at least bearing the Etihad name. The shirt is still adorned by eleven heroes on match day. The crest still displays the club name. The colours remain the same. The wages and transfer fees however, are off the Richter scale. The personnel has changed. The money has become obscene and almost incomprehensible; unfathomable at times. Before your very eyes, even after trophies and Champions League football, the club you once adored has transformed into a completely different animal. As you sit in your £62 seat in a stadium with a soulless atmosphere; tourists and selfie-sticks dotted all around you, how does this make you feel? You once stood in The Shed End at Stamford Bridge, but now this? Yes, the trophies are in the cabinet and the days at Wembley were special, but were they diluted and inevitable; synthetic almost?
When City beat us in the 2014 Capital One Cup Final, I was devastated for days, even weeks afterwards, but immensely proud in defeat. That cup meant nothing to Manchester City Football Club. It meant absolutely everything to me. As I sat and watched the Super Cup final, I asked myself, if this happened to Sunderland, how would it make me feel?
Winning is nice, of course it is. Trophies, just one, would be phenomenal. Champions League football for us is almost fantastical - unachievable almost. Leicester City achieved the impossible. They managed it without risking financial oblivion and retaining their identity and soul. It will never happen again. The greatest fiction writers in the land could not have dreamed it up.
It's something every football fans craves; success for his or her team. At the same time I'm proud of our club. The last few seasons may have hurt, particularly the last one, but I've never given up on Sunderland. I never will. It's been ingrained in me since I was a nipper, as is the case for most of us. We want to be successful. We want to mix it with the best in the land. Every Championship club is striving to reach the billionaires playground that is the Premier League. We all want to be there.
It reminds me of a very poignant moment during an Only Fools episode when Del Boy tells Rodney that he's "always wanted to be a millionaire. Now that I've achieved what I wanted to achieve, it's not how I thought it would be." Romantically, we all want an oil baron or an Arab sheikh to come in and purchase Sunderland, sweep us off our feet and propel us into the Champions League. Such a move would be phenomenal in the short term, but it changes everything. Like Del Boy, once you reach the top and achieve the seemingly impossible, where does that lead you next? The scrimping, scraping and chasing is always the fun part, but now it can be handed to you on a silver platter, if you're willing to sell your very soul to get there.
I hope that never happens to my club; to our club. You can’t tell me a big lottery win wouldn’t change you, as a person. Money does that to people. Money does that to football clubs.
It is a special place to play football, is Sunderland. Some stellar names completely unaffiliated with the club or the area, going back decades, will tell you that. History and identity are things that Sunderland AFC possess, and I hope the time never comes that someone from our club decides they too have an asking price, because to me, those types of possessions are priceless.