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I was hoping for a goal, and then we scored a goal... but heaven knows I’m miserable now!

“Is it the impact of the pandemic or is it perhaps the fatigue of a third season in League One that has sucked the life out of enjoying football?” asks Ian Bendelow.

Soccer - Capital One Cup - Final - Manchester City v Sunderland - Wembley Stadium Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

Saturdays used to be brilliant. When I was at University in Nottingham, we would get to the local pub for 9am opening, have a giant cornish pasty (with accompanying full tin of beans) for “breakfast”, a few pints watching Soccer AM for “brunch”, and then the 12.45 kick off.

It was then down to the bookies to stick the acca on - no apps were available on the Nokia 3310 in 2005 - before heading back to the pub for the 15.00 kick offs. Stick around for that, then the 17.30 game, all mixed in with a few games of pool. Then it was back to the flat, get changed, drinking games and then out on the lash down the union. As Tommy Johnson said in Football Factory, “what else you gonna do on a Saturday?”

Thing is, although it was great, it was only really great if Sunderland won. Now, bearing in mind it was 2005, you might remember if you’re old enough that this campaign was vomit inducing. So you are probably also thinking that I had some really bad Saturdays. Well, yes I did. Because that season we didn’t actually win on a Saturday at 3 o’clock. I have just realised this point right now, and as such feel pretty sorry for the 18-year-old me.

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - The Stadium of Light
“what else you gonna do on a Saturday?” asks Ian Bendelow
Photo by Owen Humphreys - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

So, I’ll start again. I used to love my Saturdays at University in 2006/2007. It was a golden time to be a Sunderland fan, as we romped - sort of - to the title and promotion to the top flight again. The victories were sweet; the Derby County 2-1 win, Leeds away, and of course who can forget Burnley at home. Three points and I would be on cloud nine all weekend.

Then there’s the whole experience of seeing Sunderland score. There are so many brilliant moments I can think of, so many times the rush of hitting the back of the net manifested itself in different ways.

Sure, when you’re at the game you often end up seats or rows away from where you were sitting, there are other forms: like the time my brother sliced his hand open on broken glass during a pile on at Duffys bar in Manchester when we beat the Mags 1-0 in the last minute; when my Dad’s head turned purple after taking the lead in the League Cup final; then again in the Checkatrade v Pompey when I thought he was having a coronary; doing a knee slide in the front garden as Mart Poom scored the equaliser v Derby; kissing random men when Kone scored our third against Everton to relegate the Mags (that wouldn’t be allowed now, but maybe it wasn’t then either).

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Derby County v Sunderland
Mart Poom celebrating his goal at Derby County for Sunderland
Photo by Nigel French/EMPICS via Getty Images

All that has gone. These days a goal will be met with cricket ground applause - if at the game - or worse, a shrug of the shoulders. Is it perhaps the fatigue of a second, and then third, season in League One? That’s likely. I know a fair few Wolves, Leicester and Nottingham Forest fans; none of them ever had anything good to say about the third tier. The league is a bit like the Crystal Maze: get out before the time runs out or you’ll be locked in the cell forever.

Maybe this would be palatable if the football on show was anywhere near watchable in the majority of games? Even victory over the league’s second placed team was met with... well... not much really. Whatever Parky says, we somehow stumbled our way to an ill-deserved win, but it’s pretty clear we’ll have more Portsmouth moments than Ipswich ones if the current levels continue. On an EFL podcast this week, our display against Gilligham was described by a neutral observer as “awful” and “terrible”. So it’s not just us, others can see it too.

Or perhaps it’s the pandemic, and the stresses and pressures of a world outside football has dampened down any enjoyment we might have. It’s no fun not being able to go to the SoL, instead forced to watch on iFollow or listen to Radio Newcastle; Nick Barnes must find it frustrating - he delivered the news of Leadbitter’s winning goal in the same manner as he might order a coffee in Starbucks. Frankly, it doesn’t feel like you are watching or listening to a competitive football match.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One
Does it still feel like a competitive game without the fans?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

The ongoing uncertainty around the ownership issues do not help either. We seem to be having a never ending sliding-doors-mirage moment; one constantly appears on the horizon only for it to vanish. New owners could change everything, yet the can is constantly being kicked down the road.

But maybe, just maybe it’s the cumulation of more than a decade of battling to keep our heads above water in the Premier League, only to suffer death by a thousand crap signings.

Sadly, whatever the reasons, right now the bad results continue to make me feel bad, and the good ones are... meh. My demands? 10 wins in a row, 100 points by April and Charlie Wyke to hit 25 goals before Santa comes.

We can but dream.

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