Dear Roker Report,
“But you haven’t been since Seb Larsson bent in a last minute free kick in O’Neill’s first game in charge!”
This was my dad’s reaction when I told him I’d made the (admittedly odd) decision to travel up from Manchester for last Saturday’s game. He was wrong. I’m sure I attended some games at the Stadium of Light in the Poyet era, and he and I both travelled to the Barnsley away game earlier this season (again, what a fantastic decision that was). But his main point was correct... I hadn’t been to the Stadium of Light in years, so why had I chosen now, at possibly our lowest ebb, to return?
There’s no straight answer. I had a season ticket before moving away for university and since then work, life and constant moving got in the way, so at the start of this season I vowed to start attending games again. I was under the illusion, as many fans were, that Championship football might mean winning some games and scoring some goals. Ha! What fools. Also, it’s an excuse to see my dad. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say our relationship revolves around football. Every phone call starts with an analysis of the last game and a quick preview of the next. Then he asks “anything else going on?” Thirdly, I wanted to see for myself just how bad things had got.
My first sense of this came over a pre-match pint in the Wheatsheaf. To my amazement... they sold Moretti on draft, but that’s not the most crucial thing that happened. I told my dad’s mate that Fletcher had been dropped for Maja, thinking this would gain his approval. “Oh” was the reply as he nodded slightly whilst staring at the floor. I could tell that the subtext to this seemingly innocuous, one-syllable word was “trust me, that won’t make a blind bit of difference”.
The scene inside the ground didn’t come as a surprise, I’d seen plenty of pictures on social media of the stadium half empty. However, I don’t remember hearing the away fans so clearly before. Those around me confirmed this had been a regular feature of the season. The home fans didn’t make much of a sound unless there was a misplaced pass or a wayward shot, of which admittedly there were many, and that’s what saddened me most. A few years ago, a blocked shot or a decent through ball that ultimately led to nothing would be still be cheered and encouraged by the crowd, but there was none of that. That’s easy for me to say as a non-regular, it’s just so sad that that’s what 2 wins in 14 months will do to a once vociferous home support. This didn’t feel like Sunderland.
Then the inevitable happened, we conceded, we got a man sent off, we conceded again. Game over... still, I thought, at least I got to see Lee Camp in the flesh. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the day. I spent time with people I like spending time with, I talked about football with my dad, I got a free cup of bovril. When times on the pitch are this pathetic, these are the things to focus on.
Chris Coleman keeps saying “things will turn, it might not feel like it now, but things will turn”. And of course he’s right, whether he’s still at the club when it happens or not. One day, just like Seb Larsson did all those years ago, someone is going to bend in a last minute free-kick, the stadium will roar and we’ll be back on the path to feeling like Sunderland again.
Until then let’s focus on the good bits; friends, family and bovril... and keep the faith.
Ed’s note: Good letter Matthew - I’m always keen to hear from exiles as their experience of supporting Sunderland is entirely different to my own. I’ve no idea how people keep up the enthusiasm to watch us play when we’re doing so horribly and the coverage of games is sparse!
I’ve said much the same myself in recent days in the aftermath of Saturday - I think at this stage whatever league Sunderland are in next season is irrelevant to me. I just want to feel happiness in supporting my team again. I want to see us win, and above all else I want to see a team on the pitch that recognises that playing for this football club is a special thing. If that’s in League One next season it doesn’t particularly phase me - what’s important is that, in the long term, we get ourselves sorted out off the pitch. Success will follow if we do, I’m sure of it.