Sat watching Sunderland turn up to a game for what feels like the first time in an age, I found myself thinking what a shame it was that this performance had come thirty-nine games into a bad season, in front of just 1900 fans over 150 miles from home.
What a sight this would be for the sore eyes at the SoL, I thought, many of whom have turned their heads and averted their gaze from the team they love, not bearing to be let down again.
It has seemed that sometimes this season even hope – that voracious, undying weed that can spring up in the lowest places where light barely touches – can’t find purchase on Wearside.
Even Sunderland fans, rightly known in days gone by as some of the hardiest football fans in the country, have a breaking point. It could have come for you as early as last season in the Premier League, or it may only recently have clawed its way into your heart; anger. While so much can be accomplished on a football pitch with that emotion, very little can be gained from it coursing through the stands. And so many have relieved themselves of that burden.
The atmosphere has been nothing less than toxic - but that has to change, and it has to change now.
We now have seven games left of this season – twenty one points to play for. I’ve personally been convinced of our impending demise for some time now, but what I saw from that team on the pitch at Pride Park was something that has been missing for a long time; fight.
They played like men to earn those three points and I dare say to claw back some of our respect. Watching these men fighting tooth and claw in the rain at the bottom of the Championship, for us, sparked something in me that I thought had died out: just the barest glimpse of a flame mind you, an ember.
And from that ember, from the embers kindled in the hearts of all Sunderland fans as they watched their team give their hearts to the cause in front of the die-hard away end, can become a conflagration! But only so long as we steel ourselves, and realign with the destiny of this club, for better or worse.
We’ve had a few fights, some cross words have been spoken and a season card or two may have ended up in the bin. But you, me, John O’Shea, Ashley Fletcher, the ball boys, the stewards, the catering staff, the executives, even Martin Bain – we’re in this together now.
As a Sunderland fan you understand gallows humour more so than most but the time for laughing it off is well and truly over. The time to throw our hands up and give up in despair has passed, and on Monday we will be at war.
We will face another enemy at the Stadium of Light, our home, and I want them to be afraid of us.
I want their players to glance nervously about them as a wall of noise hits them smack in the face when they come through that tunnel. I want our players to hear that noise and know that it carries them and lifts them up, that it is indicative of our love for this club and our respect for those that represent it on the world stage.
That can only happen if we fill it to the rafters.
Momentum can make the difference in all things, but none quite so readily as war, and football. Wearside – you know great escapes: you know how to dig your heels in, grit your teeth and push back against immovable objects, hoping against hope that the time to lay down your burdens will come, and refusing to yield before it does. You know that with belief and fortitude, all things can be accomplished. You know in your heart that your football club needs you now more than it ever has.
Make no mistake: this is the end game. Our future is balanced on a knife edge, and if we fall we may keep falling, and a generation may pass before we have the opportunity again to make our mark on the world. A generation that won’t have any love or affinity with this club that you and I care so much for. This cannot be allowed to come to pass, not so long as there is blood in our veins and a stadium to call home.
I close my eyes now and let that hope inside me build; the hope that those that come to bring us low in this, the last leg of our long and tiring journey, will be rebuffed as waves breaking on cliffs, and that the unified voice of the fans – the true voice of Sunderland – will be as thunder rolling over the landscape, and the ground will tremble at the passing of 40,000 men, women and children with a song on their lips and hope in their hearts.
Chris Coleman and his men don’t know what it’s like to have the red and white army at their back, and this Championship hasn’t seen the real Sunderland, not yet.
It’s about time we showed them all who we really are, and exactly what this means to us.
I implore you now: no matter where you are in the world, no matter how much money you’ve got in your pocket, no matter what job you have to go to or children you have to look after – turn your gaze to the Stadium of Light and start walking there right now if you have to.
Those lads need you as much as they need the air in their lungs, and they will not be alone. It is time to grit our teeth, clench our fists and go again, and again, and again, and again until the world comes to learn that Sunderland AFC and the people that hold it up on their shoulders are not the ones with whom to mess with.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close up the wall with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.