When it was announced that George Honeyman would be the new Sunderland captain it was the moment that was supposed to ignite the flame burned out by years of mismanagement, player disconnect and fan disharmony. Honeyman’s appointment was the first action of the new regime that underlined their mission statement of reconnecting with the fans, and having a team on the pitch who would battle for ninety minutes every week.
At the time, and as the season has progressed, many fans have voiced concerns - some unapologetically - that Honeyman is not a good footballer, regardless of his status within the squad or his place of birth.
Whilst this article won’t end that debate, and whilst some fans will never warm to George, the weekend ahead is almost the next defining milestone in the current ownership’s journey to delivering Sunderland not only back to the fans, but back to being a club that is fiercely competitive and respected.
Our recent history has been one of failure, and even the cup finals and visits that have followed at Wembley have ended in that same fashion. Throughout that period the sentiment was echoed that we, as Sunderland AFC, had lost our identity.
A club that was respected - a club that nobody wanted to play at home - was traded for one that had its belly tickled by overpaid footballers and p*ss-taking CEO’s.
The two Jordan’s - Pickford and Henderson - were two of the brightest lights during our darkest period, but have long since moved on to pastures new. Honeyman - whilst admittedly not the same calibre of player - is the latest local lad giving everything he has for the club, the city, and the fans.
There’s no doubting Pickford and Henderson, as World Cup semi finalists, are currently on another level of footballing ability to someone like George, but that should not detract at all from our feelings and support towards him. To me, Honeyman is a player who is a shining example to what we collectively pine for as fans - hard work, persistence, and sacrifice for the shirt.
Statistics tell the story that Honeyman is a very capable footballer at this level and perhaps even the one above, but that is not the essence of this call, regardless of your disposition on his ability, our humbling league status or the level of competition we contest on Sunday.
The fact remains that Sunderland AFC go to the national stage with an opportunity to restore damaged reputations and, crucially, take the first step on a path towards transforming the image of the club from a sorry state to a team that challenges for titles and cups regularly.
Hindsight may be wonderful, but don’t pretend for one second that you would not trade the years of abuse at the hands of players like Djilobodji, Ndong, Lescott and Camp for an opportunity to see a lad forged in the fires of that harrowing period claim the ultimate redemption of lifting a trophy a Wembley.
Do everything in your power to back him, his team mates and your club - and if this team has shown us anything so far it’s that they will do their absolute most to give it back.
Come full time, if George Honeyman lifts that trophy above his head we’ll not be talking about Checkatrade or League One, but instead will be able to tell the story not many other clubs can - the tale of a local lad taking his team from its lowest point into a game at Wembley and winning.