In all my life there hasn’t been a more bleak moment concerning SAFC. As you can imagine, the bar to make such a statement is raised pretty high too, yet I can even say that quite clearly without insulting older fans.
Although I’ve still lived long enough to remember the disastrous relegations in 2003 and 2006, there’s still nothing which seems to come close to where we are now, lumbering in league one with a setup which is completely underwhelming.
Fan sentiment has turned rapidly against the players, the management and the ownership of the club. Whilst some might observe we haven’t “hit the bottom” there can be no denying that this is a historic low, this is truly Sunderland’s darkest hour.
In such moments, history has shaped our collective psychology as a fanbase. Some of us tend distance ourselves mentally from the source of the pain, to subconsciously protect ourselves from getting hurt over something we otherwise love so deeply. We find we become less engaged with games, and we find we want to talk about the club less.
My feeling is not anger or frustration, but apathy and a mild sadness.
Our support doesn’t go away or diminish, but we tend to put it in a box and shelf it sometimes. I stopped staying up until 1-2am in Asia on a Saturday night just to be kicked back with repeated disappointment. But even far away from home you can’t escape the reminders of our plight, with me receiving banter from locals in Hong Kong and Indonesia in the space a month over wearing a Sunderland shirt.
Despite all this, I often keep saying to myself in my head “we will recover eventually, we will rise again”. The idea our club could be doomed forever is still inconceivable.
Sunderland after all is not just about pessimism, but it’s also about hope. It’s a rollercoaster ride. We may have more than our fair share of disappointments, but what keeps us going is also the inability to accept our demise and the belief that we are always just one fight or miracle away from redeeming ourselves. It’s the way of this club.
I haven’t given up on that just yet and I doubt others have either. We might have to sit through the pain and wait it out tediously, but surely this isn’t over?
This leads me to another point: That whatever happens, it is the fanbase and its passion that keeps this club alive and whilst the urge to disengage gets stronger as things become more sour, the reality is our role is more important than we think.
The club’s finances might be poor, the club’s players might leave much to be desired, but we are in the run of things the lifeblood of this club which gives us the potential and foundation to eventually bounce back. Sunderland can only truly die if its fanbase does, and for all things are going wrong right now, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
In this case, our responsibility in this current predicament is as follows: We must do all we can to keep the dream of SAFC alive and show that it belongs firmly to the fans.
It is apathy that will kill us. That means we must be more active, than passive, especially in making our voices heard to the club and coming together as a community. We might not be able to change the results on the pitch, but we can strengthen and support each other as a fanbase and bring about good which can keep the morale and spirit of support going.
I have recently been impressed by the charity efforts and fundraising done here by the Roker Report: It’s this kind of thing, as well as things in the past such as support for Bradley Lowery, that shows what Sunderland fans can achieve when they come together.
Therefore, the answer to getting through Sunderland’s “Darkest Hour” is us ourselves. It’s tough, but this shouldn’t be a question of turning our backs away, but rather a question of what we ourselves can do and achieve on an individual and community level to get us through it. We are what makes Sunderland special, and eventually it will be not just decisions on the pitch which redeems us, but that very spirit which looms over this club.