The events at Wembley Stadium on Sunday will go down in the record books as a defeat on penalties in a cup final, yet that only tells such a small part of a weekend - one that was without a doubt one of the best I’ve had as a Sunderland fan. Regardless of the result on the pitch, off the pitch and around London our fans painted the town red and white whilst proving that we are some of the best fans in the country.
Leading up to the match I hadn’t taken much notice of what the competition was. Granted, it’s not the most prestigious tournament in English football but any team should be willing to go out and beat whatever is put in front of them. This mentality booked our place in a cup final for the second time in five years, so it can’t all be bad.
Saturday in London started as I intended it to go on - sat in the sun outside the Olympic Stadium having a very overdue catch up with a mate from University over a beer. Little did we know at the time but he would become on honorary Mackem for the evening, buzzing across town from Stratford to Baker Street, sporting the red and white and seeing even more on every passing underground train and station. If you closed your eyes you could almost think you were on the Metro back home… almost.
As we made our way across town I wondered just how much booze was sunk by our contingency on Saturday. Stopping off in pubs around Tottenham Court Road and then on to Baker Street, it seemed almost every street corner had some evidence of Sunderland on it. When we aim for an invasion of London we don’t half pull it off.
The walk-through Westminster (stopping off in a watering hole or two, of course) seeing Sunderland flags unravelled in the shadow of the heavily scaffolded Big Ben was fantastic, and then off up towards the Trafalgar Square which, if the pictures were anything to go off, was Little Sunderland for the evening. Belting out songs across the street from Downing Street was always going to be a novelty, but what I heard next gave genuine goose bumps.
From still a fair distance away, the low rumble of Lads fans in Trafalgar Square could have been travelling around most of Central London. Arriving at the Square and seeing the thousands upon thousands of Sunderland fans illuminated by this point by only flares from across the fountain, it was hard to imagine that we were supporters of a side fourth in the third division.
The atmosphere was intoxicating, although the mass number of cans and bottles also did the trick. Flags on the bottom of Nelson’s Column, flags on the fountains and draped over any available wall space showed that Sunderland AFC had arrived for the cup final.
I was blown away, the honorary Mackem mate of mine was even more so. He might not be a big football fan, but I’d hope he’s at least got a bit of a soft spot for the lads now.
On a smaller scale, my part of the London takeover continued the morning of the final with a pocket of us setting up shop in a pub in Harrow. It seemed fairly off the beaten track, so undoubtedly saw a huge spike in profits. Flags dominated the front and even the few Pompey fans who ventured in got caught up in the buzz.
Of course, the match didn’t go the way we wanted, but for me and many other Sunderland fans it was the weekend which made us feel like part of the club again.
The drinking, singing and high spirits made it a class time down in the capital. After many years of shocking management and dire performances on the pitch, it was important for the club and the fans to reconnect.
The Checkatrade Trophy final allowed this to happen, and now we need to take the good feeling back into the final run of league games and try to make it a memorable end to the season.