Often, being a Sunderland fan living in Sheffield, I feel set apart from the crowd.
Liking to think I can give as good as I get when it comes to football, it reaches a point where the local teams I have mocked over the years are ahead of my well-loved club as we suddenly tumble down the English Football League. The only retort any football fan seems to be capable of mustering anymore is, “What’s it like down there?” Or, “Relegation? Again?” I subsequently find myself unable to form an excuse as it seems that, yes, we were in fact facing relegation… again.
Living in a small bubble 130 miles south of the stadium with only my Dad and brother able to hold a conversation surrounding the ins and outs of the great demise of the club understandably leaves me feeling alone, and only intensifies the feeling all Sunderland fans have grown to become all too well acquainted with over past few seasons: Hopelessness.
However, Saturday mornings always come around no matter how hard the week has been, and draping a red and white scarf around my neck creates an immense sense of belonging to my club (not the local ‘Blunts’ of which I am usually associated with, given the club colours).
No longer feeling the odd one out, I am accepted with open arms week in week out no matter the current situation of the football by the travelling Mackem masses; the feeling created off the pitch is a highlight of each match-day and something I truly take pride in being a part of.
Although the football might not be at its best, the family formed in the stands is something every Sunderland fan should feel immense satisfaction in being a member of and should strive to build this feeling further.
While there are only three members of our fully fledged ‘Dronfield Branch’ (unofficial in the eyes of the club), there feels a whole lot more when surrounded by thousands of other similarly mental supporters, following the Lads up and down the country week in, week out.
Being surrounded by teams at home of which are climbing the league table rather than falling down the leagues creates a feeling that I’m the only person in this condition; a feeling that soon dissipates within those ninety minutes where I’m surrounded by my fellow Mackems.
Plenty have jumped from the Sunderland ship over the past seasons, leaving us, the fans with the lasting memories - both good and bad. However, continuing to band together as fans and making the best of what we have is seemingly all we can do as it is all that we have.
Managers and players will come and go, but it’s the fans who make our club a close-knit community and never abandon ship because after all, it’s in our blood. We follow the team of our father, and our father’s father; vowing to continue such a tradition as it’s a place that will always feel like our home even at the hardest of times.
Supporting Sunderland can be an uphill struggle, but a problem shared is a problem halved and I feel that sharing the difficulty with thousands of others sharing my concerns and hardships is what makes being a Sunderland fan completely and utterly worth it.