On Saturday afternoon, as I walked back to the car with my little boy, the oddest sensation entranced my emotions. It was the unusual feeling of nothingness. I wasn’t angry enough for fury or engaged enough for indignation. The subtle, yet eternal drip effect of disconnecting one’s emotions from the chaos of this club is as dangerous as any quick to burst violence or manic, frenzied bitterness.
It was indeed a strange car journey - a mix of my little lad’s genuinely beautiful naivety and my almost numb ability to list a few meaningless clichés, with no heart or feeling.
You know - the classics...
“It’s no big deal.”
“It could be worse.”
“At least it’s sunny.”
Truthfully though, Mr, Short and the entire constellation of his miserable cohorts that have attached themselves to this club like poisonous limpets have not just sucked the money, pride or dignity out of this club, they have systematically - little by little, line upon line - gnawed at the very soul of a once vibrant institution.
I’ve actually been heartened to see so much rage from the fallout of yet another dismal relegation. I’m tremendously pleased that for some, the feeling - that deep emotional tie we should all feel - is still strong and sturdy. It hasn’t been for everyone, I’m relieved to find, slyly eroded over time and almost been cast aside as a memory.
Yet, for a good portion of our supporters, the joy of supporting our football team has been lost in the infinite brambles of our own misfortune. Sunderland fans - in sporting terms - have suffered enormously, and the abuse has been so constant and prevalent that over time the negative behaviours become endurable, almost natural - to the point where it’s practically acceptable.
For most of the season, where there should have been implosions and explosions with equal force and destructiveness, we’ve suffered the far more intolerable fate of surrender. A sense of flatness that wrapped its strangling arms around us and like a flaccid curse has spread its venomous, yet painless toxin around the Stadium of Light. Where there was once raw passion there is numb acceptance. This is the result of systematic, methodical and efficient destabilising that is so consistent and so rarely pauses for breath we often barely notice it. Until suddenly, we’re in League One and the myriad of autopsies take place, picking over the decaying bones of a club we all know can be bustling, booming, and brilliant given the right guidance and support.
This season has been so much worse than previous relegation battles. As well as the diabolical football - that frankly has been generally as entertaining as chronic constipation - there’s been a ubiquitous sense of disarray and an almost overwhelming display of ineptitude that stems from the very top and seeps its way downward intoxicating everyone from the media team, the manager, the players and eventually the fans.
he very fact we have a manager that has never met, spoken to or been contacted by the owner, while the club he owns is funnelling down the proverbial footballing toilet faster than Usain Bolt at the Olympics, is honestly farcical. It’s ridiculous. But it encapsulates the disorganisation in a structure where hope and blind luck are preferred methods of business over organisation and preparation. It symbolises and highlights the sheer lack of professionalism that has become the hallmark of a truly great club.
Darron Gibson, accidentally and in blubberingly drunken fashion, prophesied of such days when after the 5-0 defeat to Celtic in a friendly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Stadium of Light - he insisted to all and sundry that the squad didn’t care. Drunk he was, but truthful too. After watching our performances this season, could anyone disagree with that inebriated analysis? The lack of care, planning, forethought and professionalism has been clear for all to see.
The goalkeeping scenario has been akin to the most stupendous comedies of old. The 3 stooges spring to mind. You know when Sylvester Stallone’s character from ‘Escape to Victory’ is better than all of your current professional goalkeepers that there is something seriously wrong. In fact Stallone as he is now, greying and 70 years old, is probably better than all of our keepers now.
The lack of money, the ludicrous reliance on loan players who don’t care and can’t wait to get back to their mother clubs, the constant change of managers (who over the years have all sang similar songs of sorrow and failure) - all of this and more is lovingly encapsulated by Sunderland’s biggest and most read national headline of the entire season:
Sunderland fan has poo in the stands.
In all honesty the details of this event are largely irrelevant. It’s just another glaring and horrific symbol of a falling giant determined to make a mockery of itself. No wonder many of us feel empty.
As long as a core of Sunderland fans feel something, we’ve always got a shot at redemption. Momentum is a sweet, melodic and wonderful entity. Should we get a few wins early next season, I predict that we can build sufficient momentum to burst out of League one and back into the more familiar and loving embrace of the championship, where we can further plot our return to the top echelons of English football.
But should our rage disappear, to the same parallel universe as our joy, then we slide into a cavernous void of shrugging shoulders, an ocean of ‘whatever’ and a vacuous volcano of ‘I could care less.’ We’ve got to keep feeling this club or its lost forever.
For me, emptiness is far worse than rage and apathy significantly more sinister than anger. If we let this go on for much longer, come august there won’t be enough interest to mount a resurrection.
When the shrilled cries of ‘Are you watching Ellis Short?’ floated into the warm air of Sunderland on Saturday afternoon, the brave souls who lifted their voices, in all honesty, already knew the answer to their tuneful but rhetorical question.
No, he isn’t - Ellis Short cares even less than some of the players who have stunk out the Stadium of Light this season.
In his time here, Short has habitually abandoned us - his unwanted child - and has left the club in the care of witless guardians. As a consequence of his leadership we have long since mastered the art of ineptitude.
Our manager, Chris Coleman, for some is part of the problem. For me, personally I see him as part of the solution. He talks a lot of sense but the on-field consequences of his verbal bullishness is often incomprehensible.
So I can understand the unease in many supporters about him staying. But we’ve been on a negative spin cycle of defeatism for many years that has culminated into this disastrous and hurtful relegation.
Did we really expect him to come in at the death and in six months turn around what has been one of the biggest sporting disasters in our footballing history? In reality, it was always unlikely. Has he made tactical mistakes? Yes. Is he perfect? No. Is he responsible for our current predicament? No.
He’s a pin prick in significance when it comes to blame for a situation that has been years in the making. He wants to stay and that for me is important. Anyone who thinks that’s because he won’t get a job elsewhere are totally mistaken. Barely a chairman in the land will hold him responsible for our mess and he’s still got enough credit in the bank from his Wales heroics.
If we keep Coleman it sends out a signal to potential new owners that there’s something about the club, the city and the region that is worth staying for - something about its people worth fighting for. Something about the club worth paying for.
If our manager agrees to fight on, then so must we.
People like me, who have been a little consumed by the emptiness of it all, must find that fire that led us to Roker Park and the Stadium of Light in the first place.
The reincarnation of the club lies in the hands of two sets of people - one we know and one we don’t. Firstly we must show our worth to each other, and secondly our value to potential new owners, of which there are several showing interest.
We are not soulless consumers but the lifeblood of the club - without whom the institution itself would shrivel and die. A new owner would provide the air for our lungs, but it’s us, the supporters, that provide the heart of this frail and failing club of ours. A new saviour would only be transformative with our blessing and our overwhelming support - without it they would fall on their well-intentioned swords.
So to League One it is. But to make this a success, it will take every one of us to get back on board and smash this league to pieces. We need to send a clear message to potential suitors who may not have grown up in the region or have a rooted love of the club that we are a people worth buying into and a people you would want in the trenches.
We can succeed and breathe again, but only together.