Right now, in this moment, it’s an enthralling time to be part of the Sunderland story. Don’t look at it as another false dawn - look at it as destiny. After the depressing roller coaster of the last few humiliating seasons, many Sunderland fans have strangely reached a point of tranquil enlightenment, that can surprisingly seep into our footballing spirits and bring peace when we least expected it.
Of course there are a few exceptions that can be filed under ‘impossible to please’ or categorised as ‘still living with my parents at 40 and the world will pay for it via the power of my keyboard and twitter account.’ But overall, for most Sunderland fans, this season has been somewhat transformative and fuelled with optimism and a raw sense of renewed buoyance.
It may well be the result of a subconscious feeling of fresh beginnings - of a footballing flat-line and a robust resurrection. Maybe it’s because we’ve stripped away all the imitation tinsel attached to the glittery fraudulence of that unstable sporting utopia - the Premier League.
We’re so far removed from that shark pit now, that we can currently look back on our most recent time there and in many ways, give humble thanks that we managed to survive it with our club and our beloved institution still intact. Its not like we wouldn’t welcome a return, but when we do regain our place in the pantheon of Premier League pyrotechnic displays and light shows, we will be doing so, a great deal wiser, happier and more at peace with who we are as a club and perhaps, who we are as a people.
Now that we’re so detached from the corporate champagne guzzlers, the exotic players with unpronounceable names who arrive as global marketing brands and annual wage bills that could save Katie Price from bankruptcy, perhaps it’s easier to see what football really means to us. As a community. As families. As friends.
Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven can take some credit for striving to install as sense of identity that the club and its community can recognise and feel comfortable with. Even the struggling and almost adoptable pity-figure Martin Bain knew that if the club were to grow stronger from desperation, that a re-connection between club and community was not just a soundbite to generate a little loyal excitement from anxious supporters, but an absolute necessity for an energetic re-birth.
“The football club has to be synonymous with its North East identity. I think it’s probably lost its identity at times trying to be a club it’s not.”
Donald and Methven have recognised the same need. Charlie has spoken of how they are trying to get the club back to its roots, and to have a more adult relationship with its supporters.
If we all get it right, we are the anti-brand brand, the anti-franchise club. Everything that football should be and a rejection of some of the bulls**t that football has become.
Amen Preacher! Amen!
We are a proper club inhabited by proper people. If any club needs to be tightly braided with its community in one common cause, it has to be us and any public drive or club-linked concept that encourages this link to be stronger must be heralded from the terraced rooftops of the region and given the full backing it deserves.
Of course, most of the praise for this innate and instinctive need to return to the core of what we are comes from the same people who constructed this force of footballing nature from its genesis to its 21st century reawakening in 2019.
The folk of this region, the citizens of this fair city and all of its highways and by-ways. From the butcher in Sunderland who names his prize sausages after players, to the ex-pat in Australia who watches every televised match at 3am religiously knowing they’ve got work the next day. From the snotty nosed kid in the Southwick playground to Sunderland addicted TV Executives, running a global Film/Television production company from the comforts of Hollywood.
Sunderland supporters take many shapes and sizes, but are intrinsically linked by genetically imprinted and culturally gilded chains that bond us, as one unified body.
Love and Hope.
Love of the club. Love of community and love of our footballing family. Hope for a brighter day. Hope for a fairer system and hope our beloved Sunderland as a club and city, can become bigger than the sum our parts. We’re not in it for our infinite trophy cabinet or our golden history of European silverware. We haven’t jumped on a bandwagon and chased the glory, sacrificing our loyalty along the way.
Sunderland always has and always should be a club forged by the people, loved by the people and maintained for the people.
From the day our club founder James Allen returned to a rugby playing town from a holiday in Scotland with a round ball that you kicked with your feet, Sunderland and her inhabitants of have lived and breathed the game as if it the sport itself was our oxygen.
Football has been our saviour. Our lifeline, our friend.
We are a region of traditional economic hardship. Anything we received in terms of fame or reputation, we shaped from aching knees and damaged vertebrae. Our ancestry of pitmen, welders, dockers, cleaners, glass makers and ship builders have set the foundation in which a football club could flourish and become the beacon of hope for those with little expectation for a brighter dawn.
The club should remain that ray of optimistic expectation. It should retain its working class identity and still build towards a noble glory that stretches beyond our humble beginning. The people of this region drip in authenticity and honest substance. The club should reflect that and not be ashamed to embrace it.
The movement by the Red and White Army to raise £10,000 for a flag to represent and symbolise the club is part of this process. Personally, I love the idea of the Hemy Painting otherwise known as the ‘Corner kick,’ to be crafted into a giant flag to be hoisted on the shoulders of supporters in the Roker End and displayed like a rolling image of the clubs wonderful legacy.
Other designs I’ve seen are equally as impressive and link perfectly with our origin story, its legacy and who we are now. Such initiatives are crucial to act as reminders of this club’s true beauty - the people it has always endeavoured to represent.
So donate to the cause. Create a design. Be a significant cog in the wheel in this process of rebuilding our links to the past, to our heritage, to our foundation.
Yes, owners and players can help, encourage or even beg for a greater atmosphere, or a stronger link to its people. When they ask for atmosphere initiatives, they might have more complex motives that involve consumerism, marketing and cash flow. ‘Atmosphere’ may be translated as ‘more bodies through the turnstiles’ - but that’s their job - to sustain the business side of our institution, so the people side of our club can be ring fenced and enjoyed by the community who’s very ancestors founded our Association Football club in 1879.
So when our owners ask for more atmosphere, when new initiatives like the RAWA’s battle cry for a flag to symbolise the club and to improve the match day experience, let us get on board. Let us make a difference. Let’s embrace the past to forge a better future.
Let’s be Sunderland.