Now is not the time to be stepping backwards. Now is not the time for blame and castigation. Now is not the time to accuse the owners of crooked practises or false intentions. Now is not the time for supporters to panic. Now is not the time for fans to turn on each other and to publicly incriminate fan forums as biased agents of a corrupt state.
Believe me, the time for all of that may come and when the moment is right - bring it on.
But, for the next (hopefully) two games I couldn’t care less about any of the petty silliness that can derail a genuine push to success. Momentarily, at least, all the instantaneous reactionary gripes pale into insignificance to the task at hand. And for that task, we need all hands to the pump.
Our next match is against a team, which this season at least, can only be described as our nemesis. Our upcoming fixture is not about any of the spiteful drivel that can pull a club down, peddled by the twisted pleasure of negativity. Our ‘still very possible’ route to promotion is in this moment, not about any self-destructive conspiracy theories or overly eager charges to hang, draw and quarter everyone connected with a 5th place finish in League One.
Portsmouth away is about winning. It’s about glory. It’s about continuing a rebirth, that started when Ellis Short handed the club over at a time when most of us wondered if this creaky old lady would ever recover.
It’s not been perhaps the restitution that many had envisioned. Some believed we’d boss the league completely, leaving all those hardened lower league teams in the fiery wake of our volcanic dominance. But, previous seasons of diabolically depressing football; do not quite provide the evidence needed to ensure an overwhelming belief in our footballing Godliness.
BUT, with the largest crowd, the highest salaries and the biggest budget, presuming we’d be riding high at the top is not a canyon too difficult to bridge. For many it makes perfect sense.
For others, they thought we’d stoically solidify and stabilise a fallen giant before we fell from the map entirely. We’d stop the rot and build from there. Also, a reasonable leap to make.
Whatever camp you’re in, it doesn’t really matter in the end. We’re all Sunderland.
We all live, breathe and eat the dreams associated with red and white sporting idolatry. We would all do and say ‘out of character’ things in the name of this illogical passion. We all are capable of allowing our frantic love affair with Sunderland AFC to cloud our judgment or to spur us on to becoming more than the sum of our parts.
That’s what true support is.
You know you’re a supporter when a club’s unseen magical spell imprisons you into a life time of heartache and wild frothing at the mouth. You’re a true fan when the club’s influence can transcend beyond a simple like or dislike and invade the very emotions that make us wise or rational. We’re all hooked and that common ground of unexplainable addiction is the tie that binds in unison, the infinite amount of different individuals that claim our red and white flag to be their own. Our obsession is the glue that holds our very dysfunctional family together and beautifully dysfunctional we truly are.
Like any large and eccentric family, we don’t always agree.
We’ll fight, accuse and argue. We’ll take offence at the smallest of issues and believe we’re right, even if the rest of the family firmly believe we’re wrong. We cover a wide array of individual quirks that in a large family can be both celebratory and incessantly annoying.
You’ve the positive ones, whose bright optimism is as irritating as it is unrealistic. You’ve the negative ones whose pessimism is almost as tangible as it is exhausting. You’ve got the loyal ones who’s dutiful attention to kissing ass makes the rest of us kids look bad.
As well as those you have the smart ones, the handsome ones, the eccentric ones, successful ones, the constant let downs, the clowns, the stern, the losers and genuinely good all-rounders - and everything in-between.
Without Sunderland Association Football club I doubt 30,000 of us would simply get together every other weekend for coffee and a chat. We’d drive each other insane.
BUT. WE. HAVE. SUNDERLAND.
Somehow, out of the madness of this club and the twisted ties of an overwhelming support, we have to advance the unity, which for the most part has been joyous this season.
No one who goes week in week out this season can deny there have been authentic moments of true and genuine bliss. No-one who listens religiously to the dulcet tones of Barnesy and Benno on the air waves, like manic radio obsessives, can argue there have not been times of honest to goodness pleasure.
And largely - WE are the ones responsible. WE, the lifeblood of this club.
Amongst all of the doubt of the owner’s true intentions, despite the disappointment of the amount of dire draws we’ve stumbled to achieve and regardless of the recent bile spewed as a result of some very docile defeats, resulting in an unsatisfactory league position, the Sunderland fans, this season have been immense. Immense. They’ve made me proud, emotional and amused - hardy comedians with a soul full of wisdom and compassion.
Is 5th place the position I would have chosen at the beginning of this season? No of course not. Have I been delighted with everything Donald or Methven have done or even the way they’ve done it? Again, the answer is no. Has Jack Ross titillated me with seductive and hypnotising football that any Brazilian would jump to recognise as their own? That is a sad and deflating no.
But for the next match (hopefully matches - should Wembley come our way once again), none of that matters. Because we’re still in this. I’ll repeat. We are still in this.
We need the true majesty of this 140 year old institution, the hard-working men and women of this region, to give it one last push. To hold a shaky ceasefire from the necessary post-mortem of this season and in every form of communication keep it as positive as possible.
We’re almost there.
I know I’m an old sentimentalist - I want the flags, I want the songs, I want the cries, the groans, the hugs of celebration, the banter, the comedy, the drama and passion. I want it all.
And before some on the negative spectrum of conspiracy theories cast me off as a paid agent of the club, a bribed PR stooge, hoodwinked or blackmailed into marketing and perpetuating staged messages from the club hierarchy. Do me a favour.
THIS WEEK IS NOT ABOUT THE OWNERS. It’s not about manipulating the underpaid, overworked North-Easterner into haplessly bolstering the club coffers, so faceless investors can sneakily see the benefit while we go without. There’s a time and a place to moan all day long if we wish about the owners, the manager or the players. That has to happen and those that deserve the inevitable sea of criticism have to prepare themselves to get hammered and deservedly so.
It’s just that now IS NOT that time.
This week is about promotion. End of.
Yes we’ve fallen over recent years. Yes, we fell again this season, when perhaps it mattered most. But real glory is about being knocked to your knees and coming back. That we can definitely do, and The King’s majestic volley on Saturday evening proved there is life in this season yet. There is still hope and while hope remains, unity on all fronts is a must for me.
Just for the next 24 hours - or perhaps if we’re lucky enough to reach Wembley, until it’s all done and dusted - can we just hold the tide of biting criticism? Just a little while to pause the autopsy? Once the resuscitation machines are switched off and it’s all over, then lets crack on to the season of blame, castigation fall outs.
We supporters love the bitter dramas almost as much as the glory and rightly so - its all part of being us. All part of being a supporter.
I’m not asking for an amnesty from criticism. Far from it. I could care less about protecting owners and players. If we fail, then those who contribute to the failure have to get it in the neck and correctly so. But, until Thursday night at least, can the gun-fight at the Wearside Coral be postponed, replaced by oneness in support and energy?
Let’s hope so. Our up and down season might just depend on it.