“La tristesse durera toujours” - roughly translated as ”the sadness will last forever” - were the alleged famous last words of Vincent Van Gogh before he turned a shotgun on himself all the way back on 29th July 1890, roughly eleven years after the formation of Sunderland AFC.
Like many, I’ve long been intrigued by the story of old Vincent, and his words were left ringing in my ears as I made my way out of an empty, apathetic and desolate Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon.
Our football club, much like Vincent’s short life, has had fleeting moments of hope. No, I don’t just mean the ‘73 cup win, or those glories we had before most of us were even born - you only have to rewind back twenty one or so months ago to remind yourself of the beauty of this formerly wonderful institution. Yes, that double header against Chelsea and Everton where we all came together - manager, players and fans - to unite a club that needed togetherness and hope.
If our club and its history resembled any of the Dutchman’s works-of-art, I’m certain they’d be some bright, vibrant almost hopeful strokes of colour. Sunderland AFC has the potentiality to be a masterpiece - however, right now, it seems intent on shading itself with the darkest shade of black imaginable.
You see, last year - as bad as it was - you could still console yourself with the fact that even as a middle of the road Championship club, we may see some fight; a couple of more wins and we’d find the pride that receded during the Moyes era.
We’d seen our neighbours Newcastle do it - yes, they had £80m more than us, but a season in the Championship certainly seemed to do them good mentally. There was cautious optimism that with the undertaker Moyes gone, we could cancel the funeral and begin to rekindle some passion and desire on the pitch, as well as in the stands. Sadly, if anything, it’s worse in every sense across the club as a whole.
Our calamitous owner Ellis Short sits thousands of miles away when Saturday comes, seemingly uninterested and far away from the depression of the club he owns, whilst his mouth piece Martin Bain continues to lurch from one crisis to another with the same steely yet frighteningly-distant looking glare from the director’s seats.
It’s telling that it’s taken almost 18 months of dejection before anyone even attempted to spout vitriol at him; the fan base is too despondent to be angry. Many have taken the path of just walking away and keeping the memories, because in truth Sunderland AFC is just one big circle of crap.
You don’t blame people for thinking if it’s really worth it anymore. We are an embarrassment and perhaps that’s why this situation is so sad, and perhaps the reason Van Gogh’s words rang in my ears on Saturday.
For me and many others Sunderland is a vice, a vessel of hope and a crest we collectively believe in. We have seen some fans fall by the wayside over the years, but one thing has always remained at the core of us all - hope, humour and passion in abundance. When things got tough, we laughed, we cried but most importantly - we remained hopeful that the phoenix would eventually rise - that fan-base now cuts a forlorn figure; the apathy and empty seats don’t look too dissimilar to Van Gogh’s 1882 painting ‘Sorrow’.
We all know it - the club is dying. It’s a vessel that contains nothing; a rotting corpse.
It’s not the club we fell in love with all those years ago; and most importantly it’s a club youngsters will fail to fall in love with in the way that we had done previously.
It hurts me to say it, but perhaps we’ll go the way of Van Gogh. The club is crumbling in front of our very eyes and, for those of us who remain, it will continue to fall apart, because for all that has came before and all that we previously were - it’s evident that this particular era of sadness feels like it will last forever.