This season has been an unexpected joy. If you told me after being relegated by Darren f**king Bent last summer that this season in League One would be my favourite for the better part of a decade I’d have laughed in your face.
New owners and players that are not only shockingly competent but care and “get it”, great away days to a mix of sublime and ridiculous League One grounds, and a home record that actually looks like one. Things are well and truly on the up.
So why does it feel so wrong?
I used to baffle people with my unwarranted optimism towards Sunderland, regularly turning round to friends at games to tell them “we can beat these man!” despite us being quite clearly hopeless. Manager after manager, signing after signing, not-quite-woeful performance after kind-of-okay performance; I would swear things were about to pick up.
Now, I seem to never let myself relax and accept that we’re actually pretty good.
Maybe I’ve conditioned myself to get my enjoyment of football from the woes of constant relegation battles, a case of Short-and-Moyes induced Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe it’s normal to lose that nervousness and tension before each and every match when individual points matter that little bit less, and wins become more routine than losses.
One thing is for certain, it doesn’t do anyone any good.
The truth is, for the vast majority of my time seriously supporting the club, it has served as a vehicle and an outlet for pure, concentrated, misery. The odd Victor Anichebe brace or League Cup final aside, supporting Sunderland has provided a weekly two-hour window for me to exhaust my considerable reserves of misery and bile.
Tough week at work? Go on an embarrassing rant about one of our best players for getting a red card that was later overturned anyway.
Fallen out with the missus? Earnestly and wholeheartedly wish death and destruction upon Santiago Vergini and his progeny for scoring a genuinely unbelievable - in a bad way - own goal.
Manager signed Steven Pienaar? Actually no, that was a completely rational, Man on the Clapham Omnibus, six month campaign to ban David Moyes from all aspects of public life.
As anyone in the Roker Report group chat can attest to, watching Sunderland morphs me into an utterly pessimistic, joyless, unempathetic husk of a man that would make Gary Bennett’s commentary sound like a Tiny Tim single in comparison.
“There was more than a hint of fortune about that thirty-yard screamer”
“Sorry but anything less than double digits against Scunthorpe is frankly unacceptable”
“Josh Maja just isn’t top scorer enough”
I can’t justify it, I can barely rationalise it when I’m doing it, but nonetheless I’ve watched myself find the needle of negativity in the haystack of hammering League One jobbers week in, week out.
Embarrassing contrarian I am, I’ve become the opposite of the increasingly common modern, tribalistic fan. Instead of spending hours on Twitter attacking all other clubs and their fans, and defending everything Sunderland does no matter what, I’m grasping at straws convincing myself that things aren’t better than they’ve been for almost as long as I can remember.
I’d be the first to express my bafflement and disdain for the increasing cadre of offence junkies that seem to get a genuine rush out of manufacturing outrage over the most trivial of ‘microaggressions’, but I know exactly how they feel. I seem to come alive when I’m taking a left back’s underwhelming display on a Saturday as a personal slight, a scandal of the highest order that deserves immediate and overwhelming redress.
I laughed at fans that couldn’t quite seem to get their head around the fact we weren’t able to spend Premier League money on players in the summer, but I’m guilty of the exact same hangover from the days of pure Premier League pain. It’s taken me a while to adjust to our matches actually being quite nice to watch.
For me, Saturday at 3 o’clock is when I’m happiest, even when I’m moaning and criticising and being an utter ingrate. Usually it’s harmless enough. I probably irritate those around me at games (I know I pull my hair out when I hear blokes complain that Maja only scores goals!) and in WhatsApp groups but that’s about it.
Maybe it’s not about the football at all. It’s a lot easier to spit my dummy out about something as trivial as football, the one sphere of life in which it’s more-or-less perfectly acceptable to be a grown man having a bit of a public tantrum, than it is about issues with the important things in life that can make us all stressed and pent-up. It’s probably even quite healthy to have a regular venting session.
The problem is that the combination of social media and being in League One, with players that don’t have 10-man teams manning their Twitter, means that my irrational unreasonable rancour can have a genuine impact on the people I’m, in words but not really in thought, ranting about for two hours on a Saturday.
It’s clear to me that Max Power still seems to have his chin down a bit, lacking the swagger and influence he showed before his unlucky run of cards and the online vitriol it brought him. On the positive side, I genuinely think the support that has been shown to Luke O’Nien by pretty much every Sunderland fan has reached him and helped him bounce back from his early-season struggles.
So this is my New Year’s resolution - to let myself enjoy the football and to make the most out of this wonderful situation we’ve failed ourselves into as a club. We’re not the best team in the world, maybe not even in League One, but you’d struggle to find a club that compares. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has fallen into this trap, but enough’s enough.
So, I’m sorry I called Max Power a c**t for his wrongful sending off at Walsall.
But we really should be having more touches in the box.