Was it just me that noticed that there was a completely different feel about the Stadium of Light before, during and after Sunday’s game?
I don’t know if it was the glorious sunshine or the fact that we were finally congregating to say goodbye to perhaps the most poisonous period in the club’s long and storied history, but people certainly turned up to enjoy themselves and the performance of the players on the pitch certainly fed off the enthusiasm that was so evidently in the air.
The impending confirmation of Sunderland’s ownership takeover has certainly knocked the edge off our relegation to League One, and it would seem that the relaxed nature of Sunday’s occasion was reflective of just that.
In many ways it showed just how powerful we can be as a unit if the team and the fans work in tandem. The cause of the rift that has turned the Stadium of Light into such a rancid venue to watch football - well, if you’re a Sunderland fan - has undoubtedly been the complete and utter disconnect between supporters and players in recent years.
On Sunday we were buoyed by the inclusion of several members of our U23s squad in the side, a show of faith from former U23s boss Robbie Stockdale that ensured the occasion was a warm and friendly one.
Luke Molyneux wasn’t supposed to start the game but was given the nod once Kazenga LuaLua pulled out injured, and the sheer presence on the pitch of a raw and untried youngster that 99% of the fans in the stadium had never heard of lifted the spirits immeasurably.
Add to that the fact there was, again, no Lee Cattermole in the side and I’d say that my own mood radically improved once I saw the team on the pitch start the game together.
Ethan Robson is arguably the most ‘ready’ young talent we have - in terms of players that will be here and ready to contribute next season, anyhow - and alongside Paddy McNair the centre of our midfield seemed athletic, energised and ‘up for it’ - a refreshing boost having witnessed so many laborious, abject performances from Cattermole et al this season.
People sang songs that they probably haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to sing at the Stadium of Light for a while now, kids waved flags - which, to the club’s credit, were handed out for free outside of the ground prior to kick off - and stood on their chairs to admire the team they’ve been dragged along to watch all season actually win a game.
With the sun beaming, people were able to wear their colours without having to worry about whether they needed to bring along a coat or not.
I could sit here all day and wax lyrical about the things I loved about Sunday’s occasion but I won’t - all in all it was just a really nice day out, everyone in a red and white shirt enjoyed themselves and we somehow managed to wave goodbye to the Championship with a smile on our faces.
It gives me hope that, once football returns properly to Sunderland in a few months, the challenge of a season in League One will be met with enthusiasm from a fanbase that have been beaten and battered for years now, and have become accustomed to failure.
We shouldn’t worry about the prospect of third tier football. In fact, who can honestly say that they care what league Sunderland play in? Provided we’re winning games and enjoying ourselves, I’d summise that the fact we’re in a lower division won’t matter much to people.
The fact is that we’ve watched more than our fair share of defeats for what seems like an eternity - and as long as we’re enjoying ourselves, it really doesn’t matter all that much. I’d still buy myself a season ticket if we were playing in the Northern League, and I suspect that many thousands of others view their support of the club in much the same way.
That said, we cannot be comfortable or content with our current standing in the game.
Let’s enjoy League One, of course, but let’s ensure we get out of there at the first time of asking, with the fans and the club working together in tandem to ensure it all goes as smoothly as it possibly can.
It’s time to restore some pride and integrity to this club and this fanbase.
We should drop into the third tier with a swagger; with a new look and feel about us having been pulled from pillar to post over an over during Ellis Short’s tenure as owner. It’s easy to see why we’ve lost our identity recently, but we can salvage that if an alteration of our attitude is performed.
Sunderland AFC are by far the biggest club that will play at that level next season, and when we kick that first ball as a League One outfit we need to carry ourselves in a fashion that matches our stature.
And some may say that’s big-headed or the wrong attitude to have, but I object to that.
Sunderland AFC have been far too happy for too long now to be the underdog and the butt of the jokes, and I say that it’s about time we started acting like a big club - a club that has won six top flight league titles and two FA Cups.
Let’s grab this opportunity with two hands, remember who we are and recruit players that have ambitions that match our own. If we can do that, under the leadership of a new owner, I don’t see any reason why we can’t go on to get ourselves back to where we belong within a few years.