1998. The names Clinton and Lewinsky were hot news. Europeans agreed to a single currency. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was all the rage and Frank Sinatra said goodbye to the world. But for Sunderland and Charlton fans alike, the year 1998 holds significance for a completely different reason - a mammoth promotion chase that ended in the most heart-stopping Play Off Final Wembley has ever seen.
When The Addicks faced Peter Reid’s Sunderland on Monday 25th May of that year, the teams played out a breathtaking showcase for the Sky cameras. Eight goals were shared between the sides after 120 draining minutes of football in the blistering sun, with the score 3-3 after 90 minutes, 4-4 after extra time - promotion was decided on penalties.
Many of us have never watched it back, but none of us can ever really erase the memory of a day defined by two born and bred Mackems - one of them in the red of Charlton a hat-trick hero, the other, in the unforgettable gold kit of SAFC, suffering the heartbreak of missing the vital spot kick.
Almost 21 years on and both clubs are unrecognisable from what they were in the late nineties.
Both are now in the third tier having suffered from numerous relegations, promotions and board room turmoil, but this season rather ominously - just as they did in 1998 - Sunderland sit in third position, with Lee Bowyer’s Charlton just behind us level on points with fourth placed Barnsley. Could history repeat itself come May?
Strangely, our matches against Charlton during the 1997/98 season, unlike the game at Wembley, had been largely uneventful. A 0-0 draw was played out in the cold Wearside winter, whereas we ground out a hard fought 1-1 draw at The Valley with ten men. The league was so tight - only four points separated fourth and first. We ended the season on 90 points and somehow still didn’t get promoted, a league record that still stands by the way. Promotion really can be that tight, and this season looks like it could be eerily similar.
Whilst things are not quite as tight this time around (eleven points separate league leaders Portsmouth from Charlton) the importance of coming back from London with the full three points could allow us to plot a course for comfortably achieving our aim of automatic promotion.
With Sunderland, lighting could strike twice - football, after all, is a funny old game.
I just hope that Jack Ross and co do us a favour this weekend and put our promotions rivals to the sword. We can only hope that we start to really dominate the league in the way we know we can, putting some distance between ourselves and the chasing pack by taking away the fear of promotion heartbreak.
The @SunderlandAFC penalty-takers are in!— BETDAQ (@BETDAQ) January 4, 2019
Joining Juan Sartori will be Lake Poets' Martin Longstaff, Veterans In Crisis representative John Laverick, and #SAFC fans Radoslav & Craig!
Kevin Ball scored his penalty in the '98 Final and is here with some advice for the lads! pic.twitter.com/m11XcuirrG