On the 15th August 1987 I was staying with my dad in his house in Kew, south-west London. Sunderland were about to embark on their, thus-far, only third-tier season at Brentford. It was a bright sunny day and I decided to walk the three or so miles to the ground.
Uncertain of what to expect, I was rewarded with a 1-0 win. The winner was scored by Keith Bertschin, who in the eyes of many was an underwhelming signing (or so I thought at the time).
About to celebrate his 32nd birthday, Bertschin had been around the block a bit, which was why I was a bit non-plussed by his addition to our squad. But, as results proved, he was effective at that level. Bertschin went onto score seven goals that season as the lads stormed the division and left as fast as they arrived.
Denis Smith was the man given the task of restoring pride to the red and white shirt after a disastrous flirtation with Lawrie McMenemy. His policy of hiring tired old pros backfired spectacularly at Sunderland, though it had been fairly successful at his previous club, Southampton.
Smith had been quietly making a name for himself at York City and it was an astute appointment by the then new chairman, Bob Murray. Smith famously brought Marco Gabbiadini with him from York, who linked up with Eric Gates (one of the pluses from the McMenemy era) to form the now-famous G-Force partnership up top.
The similarities to the present day are remarkable. We have a fresh new manager in Jack Ross, who seems to be quietly going about his job with swift efficiency. Pre-season results have improved from the lacklustre 1-0 reverse at Darlington in our first game of this new era - a 6-0 demolition of St Mirren was followed by 45 minutes of impressive, free-flowing football against Championship play-off semi-finalists Middlesbrough.
Players have been brought in who look impressive for this level - many of which have seen their old clubs sending messages along the lines of, “although we’re sorry to see you go, we understand your desire to progress and wish you all the best.” How charming.
There’s only one thing which has me worried. Although we are up against Charlton in a tough looking game to start the campaign off, the Roker Rapport Podcast panelists this week unanimously predicted a home win.
Do they never learn? This is Sunderland, man!
I know it’s an overused phrase, especially by us, but it really is the hope I can’t stand.