Going into our League One adventure, the outlook is as positive as it has been for some years - despite starting in the third tier for only the second time in our history.
It’s easy to see why. We’re on course to break the League One attendance record this coming Saturday against Charlton Atheltic, the striker we’ve chased all summer has put pen to paper and we even managed to whack someone 6-0 in pre-season.
We’ve gone from being a dejected fan-base - at war with not just our owner and players, but our love of football - to an optimistic, full of beans bunch like a kid at Christmas waiting for the season to start.
Like many of us said - all it needed was for the madness of Ellis Short to go and be replaced by someone who knew what this club was about and wanted to roll up their sleeves and take it on. But, in reality, a ball hasn’t even been kicked yet.
As I went into my first Xtra podcast of the season with Charlton fan Nathan, a line he said struck me and immediately brought me back down to earth.
“You’re going to have to be prepared to get done off someone like Walsall 0-1 at home from a dodgy penalty at some point - that’s League One,” he quipped as I nervously laughed, whilst simultaneously choking on my glass of water.
“Oh God... that’s going to happen at some point isn’t it?” I thought.
A good start is essential if we’re to go and try and win the league title, I told myself - we have to start as well as the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic did. We can’t be having these unlucky defeats to Walsall that Nathan mentioned would happen too often - especially not at the beginning of the year.
See, for as positive and progressive as the club feels right now, how much of a slow start would it take to become poisonous again? How many dodgy 1-1 home draws to Scunthorpe before the tide turns to the doom and gloom of the past half decade? In amongst all this optimism still lie the scars of Chris Coleman, Simon Grayson and David b*stard Moyes - Wearside has roared a little again, but a few bad results would open up those scars once more.
Yet, maybe it shouldn’t...
In my panic, I had began to rake through which teams had “shithoused” the teams who went up automatically last year - Blackburn Rovers and Wigan. They both went up eleven and nine points ahead of third placed Shrewsbury Town, so there can’t have been too many, right - and surely they both started well?
To my amazement, it turns out both has vastly different openings than I had first thought, which calmed my onrushing gloom.
Looking closer into the opening games of Wigan’s season, it is perhaps easy to see why they went up. Winning four of their first six games, they sat pretty at the top of League One, brushing aside promotion hopefuls such as Plymouth and Charlton aside... which is what you’d expect from the eventual champions, right?
However, a look at the early form of Blackburn’s season and you’ll see defeats away to Southend followed up with a 3-1 home loss to Doncaster. Add in another home defeat to AFC Wimbledon in the opening throes of the campaign and then imagine Wearside if our season starts in similar fashion?
It’s a worrying thought isn’t it? Lose to the likes of Charlton, Luton and Oxford in the opening rounds of the Jack Ross era and you’d be forgiven for imagining a Stadium of Light’s brand new red and white seats empty (or even ablaze), with sole cries of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” aimed at directly at the waistline of Lee Cattermole.
Whether we like it or not, we are still a bruised bunch. Battle-hardened we may like to believe, but the last few seasons have really taken it out of us.
The important thing here to clarify though is the following - come the end of the season, both aforementioned teams were promoted with games to spare and ended a mere two points apart. Two points! That’s all. One started like a steam train, the other walked with a bit of a limp, but both achieved the goal of promotion.
Let’s hope we smash this league from the first game till the last and brush aside any team that dares to challenge us - by God it would be good, wouldn’t it? - but if things don’t click immediately, if we are stranded in the middle of League One come the start of October...
DO NOT PANIC. I repeat, DO NOT PANIC.
This new regime is a process. This season will be a slog, but come hell or high water, we can get through it positively by remaining strong during the tough times - and we can still get out of this horrible league, even with a 0-1 defeats at home to Walsall as Blackburn Rovers proved - remember that.