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Football is providing Sunderland fans with a welcome distraction from the reality we live in

For many folk, the return of football on Wearside is likely to be a welcome distraction from the horrific reality that we are all currently toiling through.

Sunderland v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Nobody needs me to wake them up to the fact that times are about to get a lot rougher than they already are. The sobering reality of having to figure out where you’re going to find the money to pay your bills, feed your family and buy Christmas presents for your children over the coming months is likely one many of you reading this are already living in.

The real impact of the Coronavirus pandemic likely won’t be felt fully for quite some time. With the end of the Government’s furlough scheme creeping rapidly upon us, families across the country face a level of uncertainty perhaps not seen since the Second World War.

Most folk have no idea whether they’ll even still have a job as the festive period approaches. Others, through no fault of their own, already find themselves out of work.

Pubs and restaurants right across the city and region have been forced to make the tough decision to shut up shop until further notice – the heavy restrictions put in place by the Tory government, particularly in the north east, have made it almost impossible for pubs to operate. And with no financial package of support forthcoming, many have had to close.

In Sunderland, the drop in footfall as a result of the behind-closed-doors start to the football season has had a hugely detrimental impact upon local businesses. Shops, cafés, burger vans, programme sellers, buskers and pubs around the Stadium of Light – many of whom bring home the vast majority of their income on match days – have been hit hard.

At the time of writing, several prominent pubs not only in the city centre but around the stadium, have closed their doors, not knowing if they’ll ever be able to open back up.

Football – and life as we all know it – has changed. And not for the better.

Not being able to do the same things I’ve always done on a matchday is hurting, as I’m sure it’s hurting many of you reading this right now.

For some people, the social aspect of attending football matches with friends and family is key to maintaining good mental health.

Walking to the Victory club two hours before the game for a few beers, heading over the bridge to collect a match programme, scanning in at the turnstile and standing in front of my seat, surrounded by thousands of others passionately willing the Lads on to win...

I miss all of it.

When we’ll be able to do it again is anyone’s guess.

Last Saturday, before the Peterborough game, I walked from where I live and down to Roker beach up towards the Wearmouth Bridge, past St Peters and the Fan Museum, and then past the Victory Club, where I’d usually be sat with my family and mates enjoying a pint on a match day. It was sad to see it shut.

I ventured from there up to the Stadium of Light – through Sheepfolds, past the ALS shop, then back towards the ground. I looked all around me – nothing.

No bloke playing the bagpipes; no red and white scarves on sale; no bags of sweets for a quid; not a whiff of fried onions in the air. No hustle and bustle. No police.

Just silence. Pure... silence.

And it hurt.

Sunderland v Peterborough United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Yet, despite the fact match days have changed for all of us, having something to focus on right now – despite the fact that the product on offer is far inferior to what we’re used to – is a welcome distraction from the chaos and destruction we’re witnessing around us.

For me, it’s giving me something to build my time around.

That week leading to the day of the game is just preparation for what is to come; ticking days off the calendar until I next get to see Sunderland play.

Sad, maybe, but I still get excited when I wake up on the day of the match. I still throw on my colours, kick and head every ball and cheers the Lads on. The main difference now is that I’m sat on my sofa, and not in the stands!

It’s fair to say that there are more important things to worry about than being able to drink a pint in a pub without fearing you’re breaking the law.

Still, being able to play some part in what goes on every Saturday – whether you’re sat watching from your house in Whitburn, or looking at your screen through one eye in the middle of the night in Australia – is a small comfort at the most troubling period of time I’ve seen in my lifetime.

And that’s... nice.

With all this shit going on around us, being able to distract ourselves for a few hours on a weekend means the world right now.

Hopefully, the Lads will keep on winning games, keep putting smiles on our faces – temporarily, perhaps, but for long enough to make us forget about our troubles – and keep reminding us that we can dare to dream.

Not just about happier times at home, but about Sunderland finding success on the pitch after years of inexplicable toil, frustration and torment.

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