You never think it’s going to happen to you. You never think that it’s going to be your club. You’ve watched on and seen countless others fall foul of disillusioned owners and botched attempts to reach the big time. You’ve seen clubs slapped with points deductions and transfer embargoes and think that it will never happen to your beloved club.
It’s always somebody else. It’s Coventry City, Portsmouth, Charlton Athletic, Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United, but never your club. You watch on in horror and bemusement as once mainstays of the top division crash through the leagues under incompetent management, and breathe a sigh of relief that it isn’t you.
Well, now it is.
The club that you love, the club that I love, is dying. It has been simmering for years but now it is happening and it’s unfolding before our eyes in real time. For a city so synonymous with shipbuilding, it is almost apt that we are now the stricken frigate on the horizon sailing into oblivion at a rate of knots.
We are taking on water at a rapid rate, the flare gun has been fired but to no avail. This is the mayday call of the SS Sunderland AFC - if there is anyone out there, please save us.
While this wreck is sinking, it can be salvaged. We are not the lost cause we are painted out to be, we can be turned around and we can rise again but we need help. Our owner may not care anymore but there are a lot of dedicated people here that do and all we need is a leader, a captain, to steer us out of our darkest hour.
From the moment you leave the A19 and arrive in this wonderful city, you can see the stadium. The white stanchions contrasting with the green of the Monkwearmouth Bridge display the most important aspects of Sunderland. There are not many places in the world that are so deeply obsessed with football, no city that is more intrinsically linked to the fortunes of those lads in red and white.
This is a place built on hard graft, where work would be building ships or mining coal but when three o’clock on a Saturday rolled around everyone would gather together to watch the match. Generations of families packing into the terraces of Roker Park, united in song to hear the famous Roker Roar.
Children holding the hands of their mothers and fathers filing through the turnstiles to the Fulwell End would grow up and lead their own offspring into the gates of the Stadium of Light. Our home, our cauldron, our backyard, bathed in red and white.
This is the playground where Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips would slay the giants of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, where Jermain Defoe would openly weep tears of joy, where Peter Reid would create a swashbuckling promotion side, it’s where families and friends would embrace after a last-minute winner. We may have left Roker Park but we brought the roar with us.
We are the football club that defied the odds and won the nation’s heart in 1973. We are Ian Porterfield’s right-footed volley, we are Jimmy Montgomery’s double save, we are Bob Stokoe in a trademark trenchcoat and trilby hat running across the Wembley turf, we are Bobby Kerr lifting the FA Cup.
We are the football club that contests one of the fiercest derbies in world football. We are Kevin Phillips lobbing the ball in the pouring rain, we are Marco Gabbiadini sending the hordes wild, we are Jermain Defoe’s screamer in the sunshine, we are Kieran Richardson’s bullet free-kick, we are Tommy Sorensen saving an Alan Shearer penalty at the Gallowgate, we are David Vaughan making it three.
We may seem like an outpost on England’s rugged north-east coast but we have the charm and beauty to make even the hardened soul fall in love with us. A kid from Buenos Aires made it his home, it made the hardened soul of Roy Keane soften, it has induced tears in the eyes of a veteran Dutchman, it can make players feel they’re ten foot tall and when that sun rises over the North Sea there are not many places I would rather be.
Take a walk along Roker Beach and breathe in the sea air, hear the distant cry of seagulls and watch the sun glisten off the waves. Meet the people of this fine city with their welcoming “are you alright there, pet?” greetings - this is a unique part of the country.
Everything is ready to be rebuilt, we just need someone to be our leader.
Get it right and we will follow you through the dark days searching for that ray of light. Take the risk and embrace the club, the city and its people and you could be immortalised, we will travel in our droves and that grand stadium built on a mine will shine once again.
There is a saying in Sunderland that “it is the hope I can’t stand”, it is the self-deprecating sense of even getting slightly excited about anything is ultimately a folly. In this moment, we can’t even cling to a semblance of hope, but it can change.
Be the flickering lighthouse in the distance, the glimmer of light we have been wishing for, that sign of life.
If there is anyone out there, please save us.