After the final blast of the referee’s whistle confirmed Sunderland’s place in this year’s EFL Trophy final, euphoric scenes shone through a sopping West Country evening. A professional two goal victory over Bristol Rovers signalled a return to the home of English football, five years since our last romp in the capital.
Memories of empty booze shelves, mega-hangovers, raging MPs, and the honeyed, dulcet tones of the Mackem dialect filling the thronged, red and white lined streets of central London came rushing back in an instant.
And, at the end of the month, massive Lads fans will have the chance to do it all over again. Sheer, unadulterated elation is on its way.
It’s full time. Sunderland are heading back to Wembley! pic.twitter.com/x90GJoz9sq— Roker Report (@RokerReport) March 5, 2019
And, after listening to this week’s Roker Rapport Podcast, I couldn’t help but feel like this latest Wembley final could well stand as a real cathartic moment for the club - especially after the years that have preceded this one.
Social media was littered with people looking to belittle Sunderland fans’ joy. Some mocked the fact that the once mighty Sunderland are excited to be in the final of what detractors deem to be an inferior competition, others used it as a stick to jibe at our demise.
Kieron Brady, however, noted on the pod that Sunderland fans deserve another final because of their loyalty, passion, and sheer enthusiasm in face of all the negativity that has come before.
His anecdote about Sunderland fans likely selling out an away day to face a side on Jupiter raised a laugh as in its absurdity there lies a real gem of truth: Sunderland’s fans and its people are second to none.
Loyal, welcoming, kind, and humble, Sunderland and its people are just incredible in their support. The chance for us to celebrate our side once more is something we won’t ever bemoan - and this is more than the chance of silverware. It’s a chance for tribalism at its primal finest. It’s a chance for the Mackem faithful to show the rest of the country that we’re right behind our team. It’s a chance to show our pride.
For me, this final exists as a paradox to the final of 2014. Yes, both are to be celebrated and both have given fans the chance of a fantastic weekend; however, whereas then we celebrated our cup final exploits as an escape from the brutal realities that haunted us in the league, this final is the complete opposite.
This coming final looms over a season of relative success thus far. Sunderland could be doing slightly better in the league, of course - who wouldn’t want to be top with an insurmountable lead? However, automatic promotion is still well within our grasp, and in recent matches Jack Ross’ men have looked a side on the up.
Off the field exploits have also improved at a phenomenal rate, too. The once-crippling debt has been reduced to manageable levels, and in terms of income vs. expenditure the club are said to be steadily improving as they move towards the set goal of self-sustainability. Wholesale changes have led to a refreshed club, and fans’ optimism has began to slowly return.
Promotion is undoubtedly the true measure of this season’s success, but the chance of a Wembley final is an opportunity for this club, this city, this people to take pride in all that we are and that we stand for.
This is a chance to show that we’re back on the right track.