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Sunderland AFC feels like a club ready to be loved again - and our league status doesn’t matter

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We feel like a great club again - a great club who’s just remembered how great we are and are ready to say: “no more.”

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1. Norman, 2. Kay, 3. Hardyman, 4. Bennett, 5. McPhail, 6. Owers, 7. Bracewell, 8. Armstrong, 9. Gates, 10. Gabbiadini, 11. Pascoe.

That’s ‘my’ Sunderland - it will always be ‘my’ Sunderland.

They were the eleven players wearing the jersey the day I fell in love with the club. I can’t remember what day that was exactly, but I do remember scribbling that XI in just about every school book I had. I remember covering my walls with the posters of them that you got in the programme. I remember commentating to myself using those names as I played football in my back garden. And, the best part of 30 years later, they still mean a special level of legend to me. They are just my Sunderland.

And every other Sunderland fan out there will have their own Sunderland too; the eleven names, whatever they may be, that were there right with them when they fell in love.

Well, almost every Sunderland fan out there, I guess. Because who, I ask you, has fallen in love with Sunderland recently? Magic, the kind of which love is born, has been in desperately short supply of late on Wearside.

What a heartbreaking thing to say. What a heartbreaking admission to make.

Sunderland v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Richard Sellers/Getty Images

We’ve been the butt of far too many jokes in recent times but no one should ever be stupid enough to make the mistake of thinking that Sunderland is not a great football club.

As a club we may be tired and weary and struggling to get out of bed, but we are also great. We mustn’t forget that. More to the point, though, we mustn’t be allowed to forget it.

But I think, if I’m being completely honest with myself, I have been forgetting. That’s a tough admission for me to make, but it’s the truth.

Even putting the soul-crushing results to one side for a moment, there has just been something plain wrong, bad, about Sunderland.

It’s been a club completely devoid of respect. It hasn’t had any respect for itself and a veritable plethora of examples back that up, mainly in how they’ve allowed themselves to be treated by players. The way the decision was made to be complicit in a ceremonial substitution of another club’s widely unpopular player - one found guilty of racially abusing a former Sunderland player - showed a deplorable lack of respect for the club on many different levels.

It’s been a club that hasn’t had any respect for the supporters. Fans haven’t been deemed worthy of communication. They haven’t been deemed worthy of fight.

Hull City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Even the club’s own legends have been treated with little respect, with Kevin Ball, once one of the fiercest warriors in Sunderland history, reduced to shaking hands in a club suit.

Sunderland has been a club that hasn’t had respect for its staff, as evidenced by the debacle of redundancies last season. Yes, redundancies may well have been needed, but there is a right way to do it and a wrong way. Sunderland, as ever, picked the wrong way.

And yet, if we had forgotten just how great our club is, and it’s perfectly understandable given the consistent barrage of signals to the contrary from within, Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven have certainly provided a timely reminder.

It’s easy to come into a football club and say the right words. However, for two people to come into the club and beam with genuine pride at what they’ve joined... well that’s something else entirely.

They had clearly done their research. They had reached out to fans and respected us enough to actually listen to what they were being told. They knew what they were talking about and they backed themselves to fix it. It means something, that. It all means something. It actually means an awful lot.

Yes, we are still a club who are the butt of many jokes. Yes, we are still a club on its knees. Yes, we are still a weary and tired club, scarred from the pains of the past, but we feel like a great club again - a great club who’s just remembered how great we are and are ready to say: “no more.”

Perhaps most importantly, Sunderland feels like a club ready to be loved again. You can start imagining kids excitedly scribbling ‘their’ Sunderland teams over their school books again, proudly putting their programme posters on their bedroom walls again, and calling the players’ names during a kick-about with their mates again.

The league we are in has never mattered where that’s concerned. After all, ‘my’ Sunderland had their roots in the third division too.