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Do you remember seeing Don Kitchenbrand play for Sunderland?

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Supporting Sunderland’s not just about what happens on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a lifelong bond, a purpose and meaning, it’s a shared topic of conversation over afternoon tea in Langley Park. It’s life – and death. It’s who we are.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Leeds United v Sunderland - Pre Match Build Up - Kings Cross Station, London Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

“Do you remember seeing Don Kitchenbrand play?” was what I last remember my Grandad saying to me.

He asked me that question when I was 30. I was born in 1970, 10 years after Kitchenbrand played his last game for Sunderland. I knew then that Grandad would not see Sunderland play again.

But the real question was, why would he remember Don Kitchenbrand, a lesser player of the time?

My Grandad was at Wembley in 1937 to see Raich Carter lift the FA Cup. He was in his prime in the 1950s for the Bank of England team when my Dad was a young man.

Every Sunday afternoon I was told stories of those times.

Shack sitting on the ball, glancing at his wrist to check the time.

The disappointment of Shack’s fall out with world record signing Trevor Ford.

Charlie ‘Cannon Ball’ Fleming.

Billy Elliott, the scandal of cash payments, relegation, Clough, Hurley, 1964 promotion, 1973 and the rest.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Chelsea v Sunderland
King Charlie
Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

I remember in the mid-1970s sitting in the Clock Stand my Dad bouncing me on his knee. All of us of this age write that we can still smell the smoke and hear the coughs but it is true – we can. We remember the white hair and faces of those who had fought the Nazis, those who spent a lifetime underground digging coal.

“Who is that?” this young kid asked. I remember the face that turned and said “whey that’s Bobby Kerr young’un, he won the cup. Have a black bullet”.

Grandad would have been there, smiling, dreaming of the Queen Mother presenting the Cup to Carter before Hitler invaded Poland, comparing Mel Holden to Bobby Gurney, convinced that Mel – God rest his soul – would come good.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Sunderland Photocall
Bobby Gurney – 390 games, 228 goals
Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

We all have our reasons for a lifetime’s addiction to a particular football club, whatever that reason and whichever that club might be.

But that’s my story, not too different to thousands of others.

I took my Grandad to his last match against West Ham in the 1992 FA Cup run. I was 22 – I should have been on the lash or chasing women, but I was concerned about Malcolm Crosby’s job prospects and Grandad loved the Cup, so I took him back to the Fulwell.

West Ham 2 -3 Sunderland
After drawing at home, Crosby’s team beat first division West Ham 3-2
Photo by Webb/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

I should have known better.

He died the day we got stuffed at Arsenal – the day that Peter Reid’s team broke up, when Summerbee, Gray and Makin acted themselves up in London with Melanie Sykes. I am not sure what my Methodist Grandad would have made of that business.

I lost my Dad earlier this year – his love of football and Sunderland diminished by illness, age and the bollocks of modern football.

He hated Barcelona, Arsene Wenger and that tippy tappy shit, “not proper football that”, he used to say, “where’s the skill in that” as he shook his head.

He loved the half backs of old – Jimmy McNab, Martin Harvey and Stan Anderson. He hated the cheating and diving, the 24-hour news and the bullshit in the pub.

I also recently lost a good friend. A legend of Ready to Go, the Sunderland Message Board. Ted – aka The Voice of Reason – was a wonderful man, dry humour and the kindest man you could ever wish to know.

He was taken too early, still claiming that credit cards would never catch on. How to cap a really shitty year. Ted loved the lads and helped keep my flame alive.

But what does the past tell us of the future?

It tells me that for me the best bits have gone. The innocence, the stories, the romanticism and perhaps the glory or the hope of the glory is lost.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Leeds United v Sunderland - Wembley Stadium Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

2020 already and the world is a different place now with the internet imposing opinion ahead of news. Podcasts fight for relevance – the pressure for numbers in this post Trumpian world.

I have been a contributor for Roker Report for a couple of years now, it has given me the opportunity – free of editorial control – to share my views on the club and team that I love in 2020 the way my Grandad and my father shared theirs over a Sunday tea in Langley Park, Co Durham, in the 1970s.

I might be biased, but such model has to be the future for keeping the dream alive.

So, let’s remember what it’s all about, what unites us daft bastards. Our love of the lads and our hope for better times.