Guttural rumblings of thunder echoed from the heavens as the shrill blast of the referee’s whistle signalled a disappointing end to England’s engrossing World Cup exploits. Pathetic fallacy at its finest.
My wife sat quietly and gave me a comforting smile, but I couldn’t really say or do anything to overcome the truly awful sensation firmly lodged in the pit of my stomach. Something she knew too, thankfully.
And so, gathering up a cold beer, I headed for the comfort of a much-needed shower and stood under the cascading droplets of hot water in what I can only describe as a relaxing, chaotic outpouring of emotions.
A million thoughts erupted from within as I rinsed the lather from what little hair I possess, and after a good deal of soul-searching I arrived at the conclusion that Southgate’s men had most certainly defied my pre-tournament expectations, but there remained the bitterly disappointing dejection of missing out on a genuinely perceptible chance of glory.
Then, another thought made itself known. In a succeeding moment of clarity, I began to think how England’s campaign in Russia should serve as a lesson for Sunderland fans ahead of a gruelling competition of our own.
The fervour that engulfed England’s long-suffering fans was simply incredible. This tournament felt like the beginning of something new, fresh, and exciting. People began to ask how long had it been since fans of the national team truly felt this connected with their team. The answer: an eternity. Gareth Southgate oozed quiet confidence, and as the results kept rolling, glory seemed a very tangible goal.
And just as England found a momentum of their own, so too has our own troubled team. New ownership, new players coming in at a steady pace, a fashion-conscious manager, and the hope that perhaps we too might be able to find that elusive touch of glory.
Many have mocked England’s euphoric support as being guilty of conceited arrogance, but if you can’t find yourself getting carried away with the notion of success, then what can you get excited about?
Sunderland fans, too, have every right to be enthusiastic ahead of the coming season. A double relegation coupled with negligent stewardship and an absent owner left Sunderland fans reeling. However, new management on all levels offers a hope that many of us are keen to embrace, and why is that such a bad thing?
Of course, results speak for themselves, and we haven’t even truly kicked a ball in anger yet, but to have the hope that perhaps things are about to turn themselves around - well, what’s wrong with getting excited about that?
It’s not arrogance or egotism - it’s pride and passion. Something Wearside has lost in recent times.
Things aren’t always rosy, however.
England struggled at times during the tournament, and so too did Gareth Southgate. Subsequently, there will be times when Sunderland and Jack Ross struggle this season - that’s only to be expected.
Measured expectations are definitely part of the reason as to why so many people on social media are brimming with pride at England’s performances rather than labelling the exit a catastrophe. Sunderland fans could do well to note the importance of living in the moment and understanding that glory is not guaranteed.
Should we be adamant that the team gives their all and fights for victory? Absolutely. Should we expect victory merely because of who we are? Never.
The key difference this World Cup was the distinct lack of hubris in the England set-up and among the fanbase. In my opinion, this lack of presumption allowed the side to develop and perform to the best of their abilities. This coming season, Sunderland’s fans and players cannot allow themselves to fall into the trap of expecting victory or thinking we are bigger than any other team around us.
Things won’t be easy, and we deserve nothing other than which we earn.
Happy Birthday, Jack Ross! pic.twitter.com/AMw5vKMGqe— Sunderland AFC ⚪ (@SunderlandAFC) June 5, 2018
Sunderland’s campaign begins in a little over two weeks, and moving into this season much can be learned from the nation’s exploits on the main stage.
Excitement is to be expected, and should definitely be encouraged - but expectations should be held in check. An inexperienced side led by a young, ambitious manager has the potential to find great success; however, we as fans are complicit in that journey and must ensure we do everything we can in order to help foster a winning mentality.
Much like England’s own group of likely lads, Sunderland will field a team made up of new faces - many of whom might not have convinced people they are necessarily right for the task at hand. If Sunderland’s new players can show us the same determination to succeed as demonstrated by those wearing felines of their own over their hearts, fans will undoubtedly be enthralled.
England fell during the closing stages of their race, yet the manner in which they were able to inspire such joy and confidence is something that will stick with us for years to come. As Sunderland gear up for a race of their own, understanding and appreciating this international journey will do us well in preparing for the highs and lows of next season. Sunderland fans aren’t exactly alien to disappointment, but hopefully Jack Ross can find the success we just missed out on this summer.