Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.
I’m quoting Paradise Lost at 3am. I should get to bed before I get carried away and once again start to believe I’m some sort of expert in classical poetry. Pebble dashing the many RR group chats with my half-baked late night attempts at theological banter and armchair philosophising. But first… With a metaphorical gun to my head I’ve been asked/forced to give you all my opinions and perspectives on what has been a truly busy yet incredibly rewarding week or so for not just us at RR but also for the fanbase as a whole.
A few things have happened to lead us up from the dark depression of the last few years and into the light. Thousands of us are feeling a renewed connection with the club and each other, we’re actually feeling... joy (that most elusive of emotional states under the latter half of Short’s reign) in following our beloved Sunderland. I don’t need to tell you this, you can feel it, but it fills the void between points and I’ve got a thousand words left.
Where was I? Oh yes. This has been quite the week. After working through several boxes of so soft tissues while salivating and generally oozing happy juices (you’re welcome for the mental image) over the rocket launched by HRH Maguire, the team started work on the latest installments of the Roker Rapport podcast.
Now I’m fresh from perusing the Twitter feed and the comments/responses we’ve received the past few days have been staggering. I’ve got this wonderful fuzzy feeling from it all.
It’s a far cry from our beginnings - a million-and-a-bit listens back I’d been asked to participate in a project, an idea to get a Podcast going that required a little bit of work on my part.
Chop a few bits here and there, organise a solid recording system that connected some great distances, sort some kind of intro/outro, try clean up the random noises, do my thing as my brother put it - produce, edit, stay up all night trying to fix things - “Should be easy for you” he says.
So then onto Skype, free recording software, bad connections, awkward publishing processes... I had no idea what I was doing, let alone the obsessive levels I’d go to for this little project of ours and the amount of technobabble sh*te I’d be capable of spewing as I tried to wrap my head around what needed to be done. It was a truly glorious time to begin a Podcast as well, as Moyeseh took over in the fallout of Big Sam’s departure and we began our soul crushing descent into madness, depression and general apathy (with the occasional bout of borderline psychotic rage).
Those early Pods were very special to me, despite listening back and laughing at how much I didn’t yet know how to do. We live and learn. Audio quality aside, the content was something I enjoyed immensely. Our host welcomed half of our writers to the Pod to give their many opinions and insights. It was freeing for a lot of us and would turn out to be somewhat cathartic in the ensuing months. So we continued, on through the footballing wasteland of our 16/17 campaign and straight into the myre of our 17/18 pièce de résistance.
Lots changed over that period. Hosting duties changed hands, the recording location and process changed, many people came and went. However one thing we’ve always been extremely keen on is giving you the listeners what you wanted. As much as was reasonably possible of course.
Financially the Pod has been supported by each person giving their time and effort freely, their ideas, their content, their input, their creations... all for the love. The attempt to connect the fan base and make some attempt at pushing as much SAFC content to the many exiles around the country and the world, as well as those in close vicinity to the Stadium of Light, was something we always talked about but never realistically thought was possible. It was a pipe dream. We’d never be able to pull off certain things on our operating budget of absolute zero and our status as just another bunch of obsessive lads fans trying to make sense of the insanity of it all.
The ability to draw guests to chat away with our motley crew wasn’t exactly great while the club was in Ellis Short’s hands (due likely in no small part to our often no holds barred opinions on the actions/inactions of those on high) but it started to improve as our listener base grew. People started to take notice.
Of course everything changed for our club as this white knight came riding in on a horse made of pure light, an unassuming man we knew very little about - Mr Stewart Donald and friends put the many rumours surrounding our club’s future to the sword and began to get to work rebuilding the club, the team and most importantly, the relationship between the club and fans that had been so terribly strained it had gotten downright ugly. Vitriolic even.
Many would think that we’ve put this man on a pedestal, and I suppose we have. It’s incredibly difficult not to like Stewart, especially after his sudden appearance (immediately following his first official press conference as Sunderland owner) on The Roker Rapport Podcast.
It blew up, the feedback from fans was truly beautiful. The connection I felt with this relative stranger was formed almost solely off the back of that interview. I’ve had many a conversation with friends and listeners who feel the same way.
Our magic carpet ride was just beginning, Mr Blue Sky had arrived, Papa had a brand new bag and we felt good, we had our own benevolent Godfather figure and all was right with the world. If anything that feeling has gotten stronger. The unity that couldn’t be achieved with empty slogans, hashtags and robotic statements from a disinterested and aloof ownership has been reestablished due to a constant and basic principle that Stewart has pushed from his first days at the club.
A mantra of sincerity, honesty and transparency has finally left the majority with the feeling that we’re back. We’re once again proud of our club, our manager and staff, our players, our home. Fantastic performances on the pitch, the cutting away of the deadwood and the restoration of basic and simple pride in our stadium all continue to swell this wave we’re all riding that I honestly don’t think will be fully crested until we’re back in amongst the elite of English football.
More importantly perhaps is the fact that we don’t fear the weekend anymore. The dread has gone. It’s all onwards and upwards, and as you can hear in this latest - his fifth in as many months - interview with our chairman, he believes in our club, he believes in our support and he’s with us, talking us through it every step of the way.
Long may his reign continue and long may we feel this togetherness. There’s a refreshing, almost complete lack of the bitterness and misery that almost consumed the soul of our SAFC family. Things can only get better!
Coming back to the subject of fans and exiles, we got to hear a quite brilliant and candid chat between our relentless host Connor Bromley and the wonderfully astute, passionate and inspiring David Jones - the face of Sky Sports Monday Night Football and a man who has truly rode the insane rollercoaster of Lads fandom since the early eighties.
His stories reminded yet again just how special our club is; how that initial connection can grow from your early years into something all consuming.
I’ve always felt our club was special in that way. Emotional investment is something all Sunderland fans give by the truckload. It goes beyond what would be considered the norm. Our idols are remembered and often all we ask is passion and belief, with such things rewarded by a lifetime of worship and unconditional love.
This podcast is a personal favourite of mine for so many reasons. It’s also something to be keenly consumed by the budding sports journalist; David’s story is a fascinating mix of hard work paying off, taking your opportunities when they present themselves, and adapting to whatever situation arises. I implore you to listen in if you haven’t already.
As far as the Roker Rapport is concerned we will strive to continue to bring you the best guests, as much insight as possible, a never ending stream of Sunderland AFC content that will always try to grow and improve; to ask the questions you want to ask and try and find those best qualified to answer.
We’ve always had a laugh along the way, and your support is never undervalued or taken for granted. You’ve played as much a part as any of us in this continuing journey and we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts. To summarise… Haway the lads!
Our post-Plymouth edition of the Podcast, where we are joined by former Sunderland Echo Argus Graeme Anderson, is out from tomorrow morning.