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OPINION: Inside the Sunderland FanZone - people smiling, having fun... with a dose of optimism

After talking to numerous fans pre-game in the new fan zone, it is clear optimism of a new era at Sunderland is on the horizon.

Sunderland AFC

If you weigh enough of the evidence an essential truth can emerge.

Talking with lifelong Sunderland supporters in the Fan Zone before the Charlton game, to a person they were convinced that a new era was starting at the club. Their views and feelings, rooted in the decades of dedication and often disappointment, chime with the hundreds of column inches that have been written concerning the rebirth of Sunderland over the summer of 2018.

But first of all, something about the people I interviewed. I talked with ten fans, most of them who had supported Sunderland over the years and as far back as the 1950s.

They had seen a lot, the good times and bad – “I’ve seen a whole load of rubbish” commented one – but they were all brimming with optimism. And this was not just the hope that comes with a new season – it ran much deeper than that. I could have talked with a 1000 and the same essential truth would have emerged.

To a person they talked about the clean slate – jubilant of the new owners who are football people, wanting the best for the club and who communicate with the fan base. As I was interviewing a very small slice of it, Stewart, Charlie and Juan were mingling with the crowds and having their photographs taken, arms round shoulders in gestures of togetherness. Here was a living reflection of what we were talking about.

Sunderland AFC

Then they went on to talk about the manager – Jack Ross – seen as young, hungry and intelligent; someone who would motivate the players, particularly the youngsters. For some he was seen as a risky appointment, but everyone agreed that he should be given time.

And then we came to the players. A bit of an unknown quantity, but the essential point was that they wanted to be here and to give their all for the club. This was contrasted to the millionaires who couldn’t have cared less. There were also reflections of the players’ willingness to communicate. At the same time that Stewart, Charlie and Juan we’re talking with the crowds, all the players who were injured and could not play (unfortunately it looked like a good section of the squad) came down to have their photographs taken and to answer questions from the fans.

As the conversations progressed an interesting theme came through – a real maturity born out of the realisation that success will take time. While everyone thought that Sunderland could achieve promotion this season, they argued for patience to allow time for the team to gel. There was even a view that it was better spend a few seasons in this league with a decent club that you could love, rather than promotion at any cost. This was not the majority viewpoint, but everyone thought League One was a platform from which to rebuild.

Sunderland AFC

Not only did I talk with fans who had supported Sunderland for decades, I also talked with one who travelled all the way from Australia (and I thought I’d come a long distance from London). It was only his second time at the Stadium of Light and thankfully he did not return disappointed. Which brings me to the match and how it too reflected new times. These points have already been commented on extensively, but they’re worth repeating.

First, when the Lads went behind, the crowd urged them on and lifted the players. Second, in the dying minutes when Gooch allowed a pass to slip under his foot, his response was to make a dash for the penalty area and to signal to Oviedo to put in the cross.

That was done with pinpoint accuracy and Lynden powered home a bullet of a header. Cue completely mental scenes at the Stadium of Light as years of hurt poured out in utter ecstasy. Indeed a new era had truly begun, albeit in nerve wracking style.

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