With a trademark celebration familiar to Sunderland fans, Gus Poyet’s Italian stallion sprinted around the pitch with all the unadulterated joy and wonder that a potentially life-changing moment could produce.
Biting his left hand, while raising his right arm towards the heavens, Fabio Borini, running like a Roman cheetah towards the stands, seemed to symbolise all the amazement, all the shock, all the body-infusing electricity that overwhelmed another 30,000 red and white witnesses inside Wembley Stadium. Uniting them with the fantastical and heart pounding devotion of fellow disciples around the globe.
The entirety of whom, in that moment, were joyously dedicating every ounce of nervous emotion and each drop of strained sweat, sacrificing it all at the altar of irrational adoration.
All of us, bonded in spirit, united in fantasy and linked by a curious, often illogical and usually painful love of one of football’s original historical giants.
It was a moment to savour.
Everything that seemed impossible to achieve on paper, suddenly seemed achievable. Mother’s with grins as wide as the River Wear embraced their children with delight and elation. Husband’s and wives gleefully kissed in instant revelry. All genders, sexualities, ages, and races that claim our colours to be theirs, leapt to the sky in momentary adulation.
The Hope we can’t stand suddenly became the hope that briefly sustained everything we are.
Cold beer flew out of glasses. The savoury aroma of hearty pub food intoxicated our senses. Sofas in every corner of the world, wherever mackems call home, were rocking with excitable activity.
Delirious and drunken text messages were forcing phones in North-Eastern pockets to vibrate and buzz with intense urgency.
For the shortest of times, the Capital One Cup final in 2014, where unfashionable Sunderland faced off against the mighty, cash-laden elites of Manchester City caused the most wonderful reaction, creating delirium and life-long memories in the process.
Of course, it didn’t last.
Sustainable success on the pitch rarely does on the shores of Sunderland. Wembley visits, for us at least, are fleeting moments to treasure, but faith, hope, loyalty, belief, love and credibility are eternal values in which we immerse ourselves - and those last a lifetime.
Five years to the week of that final and I’ve found myself philosophically reflecting on that day of glorious, albeit frustrated hysteria.
When Sunderland supporters reminisce over the high-spots of that era, the episodes of sheer pleasure are few and far between, but – a first Wembley final for 22 years, a third and fourth victory on the spin against our cousins up the road and the greatest escape from the drop in Premier League history.
You have to conclude, that despite all the dross, parts of that journey were quite extraordinary.
As for the final itself, some may say celebrating majestic defeat is nonetheless simply celebrating failure.
But that game was more than just the result. More than just the performance. More than just a final. It was a time of yet another renaissance. Another rising from the ashes of seeming disaster.
A familiar feeling to us Sunderland supporters.
Red and white army take over Covent Garden #daretodream #wearonourway pic.twitter.com/k7wChoZEhN— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) March 1, 2014
It is also a cup final that nearly every Sunderland supporter can recall from living memory. We don’t have to live vicariously through an elder-statesman recanting a tale from the days of yore. It was real for all of us. Tangible and authentic.
At the time Sunderland were desperately playing catch-up in another relegation dogfight, and many in the world of judgmental punditry were casting us aside as hopeless and doomed. Fortunately, the red and white remnants of the North East, remained optimistic to the end and knew it was too early to write Sunderland off.
The final was an event to remember, for certain. But, even now, as I recall one of the most memorable nights in our club’s recent history- a madcap and insane semi-final under the lights of Old Trafford, my skin begins to tingle. Talk about heart-stopping moments!
9,000 hopeful souls from Wearside and millions more besides at home, witnessed the lads progress to the Capital One Cup final after a slapstick penalty-shoot out at Old Trafford against the mighty Manchester United. That match set the tone and laid the foundation of belief that turned the city into a Wembley-fuelled, zone of frenzy.
Those who’ve lived through our victory in 1973 and our subsequent close calls in 1985 and 1992 will well remember how Cup Final insanity swept through Sunderland and its many byways and highways like a celebratory virus that spread its colourful happiness into every home, business and school.
Such events, whether successful or unsuccessful become a symbol of much more than any particular match, or individual cup final.
They’re a euphoric and heart-warming reminder of who we are and what we do well. They bring out the best of us and re-enforce the majestic and generous side of our hardy community and the tough, but sensitive working men and women who inhabit it.
2014 was a failure on the pitch - a glorious one, but it was a loss and bitter footballing blow. But beyond the green of the beautifully manicured Wembley turf, the North East was once again viewed for its true beauty, by all within the reach of a television screen.
Southern based TV production companies and media outlets have sucked the life from this region over the years, producing shows based on a poverty stricken ‘benefits culture’ or how grim it is ‘up North.’
In those circumstances, it’s all too easy for the nation to gain a lop-sided and skewed view of the North East’s true worth.
But, cup finals, such as the one we dreamed of winning in 2014, can restore some of that social balance. North Easterners can be seen for who we really are. Jovial, generous, creative, authentic, educated, hard-working and loyal. A region who does not drown itself in economic sorrow, but celebrates the wonder of community and embraces the joy of family orientated neighbourhoods.
Man City supporters witnessed that for themselves on the day. Over 40,000 city fans read the Sunderland Echo’s website after the event and an unfathomable amount of emails, cards and letters flooded into our local paper from our cup final rivals. All of them positive. All of them describing Sunderland fans in the very best of terms.
There were obviously too many to quote word for word, but this one summed up the general feeling well:
“We met Sunderland fans on the tube, around the stadium and in pubs before and after the game. We had a fantastic day but not only because our team won.
Meeting the Sunderland fans too. They were absolutely great, really friendly and genuine. There was no hostility in the atmosphere at all. I hope that you get to Wembley again and I will be rooting for you in all your remaining Premier League games…
Congratulations and thanks for making it a day to remember.”
Darren H. Man City Fan
So, as the five year anniversary of that Cup Final looms, let’s not recall it for the defeat. Let’s not hang our heads in shame at the result of another loss. It’s not another failure to mourn.
It brought the best out of each Sunderland supporter, reminding ourselves of our genuine worth and reminding the world or our true value. For those reasons, for me, it will stand as a symbolic monument of what is possible for us as a club and us as a community.
If Steward Donald and Charlie Methven can steer the club to success, should they be fortunate enough to navigate us to another cup final, then the small taste of our gratitude and worship that they’ve been touched by on occasions this season, could be turned into a tidal wave of dedication, reverence and allegiance. Their success in guiding our club could immerse them forever, in the goodness of the people they are charged to represent.
If I was them, I’d want nothing more.