To me, watching Sunderland play in big games - like the play-offs, for instance - is what being a supporter is all about. Having sat through some pretty desperate performances over the years it’s occasions and games like the one on Saturday that we should be looking to and relishing.
The scale of the occasion is huge. We’re playing a team who we’ve yet to overcome this season, but many of us would concede that Sunderland have deserved more in games against Portsmouth - and now have have an opportunity to put it right.
But, it cannot be stressed enough just how important it is that the fanbase shows the same enthusiasm for this game that we’d hope the players will too. Sure, we’d all be a lot more motivated and up for it had the Lads been able to nab a win or two in the final few games of the season, but it wasn’t to be. That’s in the past and it should firmly remain there.
We’re only in control of what happens in the future and dwelling on what has gone wrong before now is counterproductive and, quite frankly, unnecessary.
Let me stress this again - SUNDERLAND CAN STILL BE PROMOTED.
We all want to see our team playing Championship football next season, so showing our full support is absolutely crucial to the outcome of Saturday’s hugely important game.
If you are a proper Sunderland supporter and CAN be at the game, then please make sure you move heaven and earth to be there. Every bum in a seat is an extra voice that can push the team over the line; that can suck the ball into the net and can pull the side out of the trenches when we’re under pressure.
Just like at Anfield on Tuesday night, when Liverpool managed to achieve the unthinkable due to their unbreakable team spirit and bond between fans and players, the crowd can play a huge part in ensuring that you achieve your dreams - and, for Sunderland, that dream is a place in the play-off final at Wembley on May 26th.
We’re not done yet.
A Love Supreme
When does the season end? Not yet. We all know that, in a perfect world, it would have ended on Saturday at Southend, and we’d have spent the evening plodging in the Thames estuary in celebration. We also all know that it didn’t, because the football world is far from perfect and good old SAFC is an imperfect part of that world.
When it does actually end is now up to the manager, the players, and you, me and every other Sunderland fan. I’m not the first to say that if it’s inspiration you’re after, look no further than Anfield on Tuesday or Amsterdam on Wednesday. The Liverpool crowd was every bit as important as the spirit of the players in that comeback, showing that, far from being simply spectators, they could make a difference.
If you think that doesn’t apply to us, then, if you’re old enough, cast your minds back to 1998. A goal down after the first leg of the play-off semi -final against Sheffield United at their place, the SoL crowd turned up to do their job in the home leg. United might have had the advantage of a 2-1 lead, but they were a beaten team from the moment the whistle went to start the game.
Why? Because 40,000 folks turned up in a mood to lift the roof off the stadium, and they did just that. We had Bally’s away goal in the bag, and the mood all around the ground was that it was not a matter of if we’d win, but when we’d score and who’d get the goals.
The place was bouncing, the enthusiasm and energy of the fans flowed from the stands down the tunnel to the dressing room and across the white line onto the pitch. The roar that greeted the players as they emerged from that tunnel hit them like a wall of desire and positivity, and you could see their chests stick out that bit more and their heads be held that bit higher.
We, the fans, had won that game before it started. We, the team, ripped into the Blades, forcing an own goal before SuperKev killed the game before half-time. OK, a goal for Sheffield would have taken it to extra time, but that was never going to happen. We, the fans, had played our part with the noise and the positive energy, and with the scarves, shirts, and flags.
So, when does the season end? Let’s make sure it’s May 26th.
I know that not achieving automatic promotion is not ideal and has affected the mood of some fans, but we’ve come an awful long way together since August – fifty eight games, fifty eight and a half if you count the wet one at Accrington – so to give up now, after all that effort, would be a madness that the team don’t deserve.
After all that effort, another three games won’t hurt. Had we tootled along in seventh place all season then claimed fifth spot and a place in the play-offs, we’d be a pleased as punch. That’s not what happened, obviously, but the play-offs is where we are, the past is exactly that, and promotion is very much in our own hands.
We owe Pompey for Wembley, we owe them for the league game at Fratton Park, and we owe them for the nonsense at the SoL. Above all, we the fans owe our players simply because they’re our players and with our backing they can get us past Pompey and into the final, and on to the Championship.
If you’re a Sunderland fan, get yourself along to the match on Saturday. No excuses, no whining about it not being on your season card, no grumbling about it being a game too far. Your club needs you; your fellow fans need you, and your team needs you. Now is not the time to sit in the pub, or at home with a can of beer, shouting at the telly. Be there, with your voice, your belief, and your positivity and do your bit.
Wise Men Say
As the ball glances off the head of a Chelsea defender, Jermain Defoe adjusts his position. Taking a half-step backwards he lifts his right foot to knee height, cushioning the ball down as it arrives. He lets it bounce, just, before swinging that same right foot at it with venom. The ball skims off the surface, past Gary Cahill and under Thibaut Courtois, into the net.
All around him there’s an explosion of the senses. High above that goal, 3,000 or so visiting fans watch on in stunned silence. Below them, 44,000 Sunderland supporters erupt. A wave of leaping colour; a roar of thunderous noise.
That goal would have been just as important had the Stadium of Light been empty - but it wouldn’t have felt that way. It might not even have happened at all, and it certainly wouldn’t be remembered as fondly as it is now.
These are moments shared and joys experienced together.
Moments like that don’t happen in a half-empty husk. The leaping colour jars with the static seats; the thunderous noise dissipates much faster. And after it all dies down, after the senses are restored and breath is regained, you need someone to turn to, you need a whole stand to turn to.
One to which you can say, through the broadest of smiles, “Can you imagine missing that?”
We all felt the disappointment that came after failing to secure automatic promotion, but now is not the time to pick apart what might have been, and as a club, we have to pull together and respond.
Since last summer, we have changed almost everything you can change at a football club – owners, management and players – and together, I think we have come a long way.
We can all be proud of the part we have played, but our season is far from over, and we now have a brilliant opportunity to reward the hard work we have put in by earning promotion.