Charlie Methven recently told the Roker Rapport Podcast that Sunderland needed to address some major issues with the infrastructure of the club. As well as the speaker system, he also mentioned the need for a couple of lifts. Although he was speaking about actual lifts at the Academy of Light (elevators for our American readers), metaphorically speaking, he couldn’t have been more right.
Since Donald and Methven took over the club 18 months ago, there are a few moments that really stand out to me where the club have got things right either on the pitch or off the pitch. These moments managed to bring the supporters together and gave everyone involved with the club a huge lift. We need a few more moments like this to unite the fans and to somehow resurrect our stuttering season – and we need them soon.
When you lose to Leicester U21s and League Two relegation candidates Scunthorpe in the space of seven days, there’s obviously going to be a lot of doom and gloom. But looking back over the past eighteen months, there have been plenty of positives. These are a few that stand out for me.
Stewart and Charlie’s first appearance on the Podcast
Following back-to-back relegations, with morale at an all-time low and huge question marks over the financial future of the club, a relatively unknown businessman bought Sunderland and nobody had any idea what to expect.
Then, in the space of a couple of hours, we went from having an absent owner to an owner who wanted to engage directly with the fans. The club went from being suffocated under the weight of spiralling debt, to being debt free.
Loads of my Sunderland-supporting mates sent me link to the interview and for the first time in a long time we were all getting excited to be Sunderland fans.
Lynden Gooch’s last gasp winner on the opening day against Charlton
Although it was only the first game, I think it was the goal that saved our season.
If we’d started with a disappointing home draw against a team that - at that stage of the campaign, barely had enough players to name a full squad - the bubble of enthusiasm for the new dawn could well have burst. The fan base could quite easily have slipped back into doom and gloom mode of the previous two seasons.
As it was we messed up a corner, Bryan Oviedo whipped a hopeful ball into the box and Lynden Gooch powered home a 92nd minute bullet header. The stadium erupted and the Donald/Ross era was off to a winning start.
The release of the Sunderland ‘til I Die on Netflix
On Friday the 14th December last year, the documentary was released and I’d hazard a guess that by the end of that weekend, not only had thousands of Sunderland fans watched it, but tens of thousands of football fans around the world had too.
The amount of messages I had from friends all over the world who watched the documentary was incredible – the majority positive, hoping for Sunderland to make it back to the big time. Instead of it being a tale of the embarrassment of one of the biggest football clubs in England dropping into the third tier, it was actually quite uplifting, evoking a sense of pride in Sunderland, both the football club and the town.
The response from Sunderland supporters to the theme song, Shipyards by the Lake Poets, was incredible, sending the song into the top ten of the Christmas chart – it was a great reminder of just how powerful a united SAFC fan base can be.
I was home for Christmas and was lucky enough to be there at the Stadium of Light along with 46,038 other people to witness a truly special occasion – fans, players and staff clubbing together to give the gift of football and donate over 1000 tickets to less fortunate fans, the stadium full like it hadn’t been for years, the Lake Poets performing Shipyards live on the pitch and, of course, Sunderland picked up three points.
It really felt like a day when everyone connected to the club was winning.
Taking over London for the Checkatrade final
So what if it’s a tin-pot cup that nobody cares about. So what if we lost on penalties. It was a magical weekend, especially for parents who got to take their kids to Wembley for the first time. The scenes at Trafalgar Square were all over social media and the vast majority of Sunderland fans did their club and city proud.
Our owners were in amongst it with the regular fans, our players were given a heroes welcome at Kings Cross Station and the game had the second highest attendance of any game in Europe that weekend (beaten only by Barcelona). Incredible.
Since then, there’s been precious little to lift the spirits of the fans. Drawing our way into the play-offs was disappointing and losing at Wembley again was soul-crushing. The summer signings were solid but probably lacked the ‘wow’ factor to get the fans excited. The lack of clarity and communication related to the takeover / investment saw the initial enthusiasm turn to frustration.
Add to that the appointment of Phil Parkinson, who was by no means the unanimous fan’s favourite for the job - and it’s no wonder that things feel very flat at the moment.
There was a glimmer of hope when we beat Tranmere 5-0 but since then, performances have gone rapidly downhill. With two thirds of the league season left, promotion is still very much in our hands and there’s no reason why we can’t turn our season around.
But we need things to start happening on the field and off the field, to bring the fans together and give us the lift we desperately need.