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OPINION: Here Be Dragons! Sunderland face an uncertain trip into League One’s uncharted waters

For a generation of Sunderland fans, League One is the deepest depths of the ocean – but is it Davey Jones’ Locker or a chance to master our sea legs?

Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

The sea is a cruel mistress, as the old saying goes.

It’s a hark back to an older time of nautical travel, when the sea was not populated with leathery men wearing speedos atop a gargantuan cruise ship, in an arrogant challenge to the natural world. The sea was dangerous and not every corner of it explored.

In those days there were blank spaces on the map, and plastered across was a warning to all intrepid travellers, ‘here be dragons.’

This is where, for an entire generation of Sunderland fans, we find ourselves: uncharted waters.

A view of the Stadium of Light, home of Sunderland (Photo by Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Some of us younger fans have only heard stories of the 87/88 season – our only previous outing in the third tier – much in the same way that a child is told that the bogeyman will come and get them if they don’t behave.

But like those childhood tales, we grew up and forgot about them, forgot about the lessons they held.

In my mind Sunderland have never been a ‘good team’ but they’ve always had potential, and I’ve always argued to my Top Six supporting friends that we could be a big team. We just needed to get it right.

Well… we got it wrong, really wrong. The HMS Sunderland sailed into a hurricane with a threadbare crew that would get seasick on a pedalo, our captain was less Jack Sparrow and more current-day Johnny Depp, flouncing across deck and hoarding doubloons rather than helping to plug holes. We sailed into the maelstrom understaffed, mismanaged and scarily (whilst also being hilariously and arrogantly) unprepared.

It was the bleakest time for a generation of Sunderland fans – truly the darkest hour before the dawn. We all feared catastrophe and looked destined to become another addition to the scrap heap of self-imploding big clubs - nothing more than a cautionary tale for others, a bogeyman to frighten naughty chairmen.

Yet we came out the other side. We weathered the storm and saw out a new day – very much down, low on supplies and with possible mutineers within our ranks. But seeing a new day in an unfamiliar place is better than no day at all.

No doubt it is terrifying for some of us younger fans, we very rarely heed the words of our elders, and some look at League One with trepidation and fear. It’s natural to fear the unknown, but there is nothing if not cause for hope.

To beat the nautical metaphor to death, we have a new captain and first mate, a desire to clean up the port we call home and are actively searching for (and have found) crew familiar with the waters we are sailing into. For the first time in a long time there is a sense that the winds of change are blowing in our favour.

So what’s on the blank spaces of the map?

Just more water.

There aren’t dragons or beasts ready to devour us once and for all. In these uncharted waters there is just another chance and another opportunity to get it right, and with Messrs Donald, Methven and Ross at the helm, it feels like the club has the capacity to do that.

It’s not going to be plain sailing, but it also can’t any worse than the storm we just weathered.

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