Phil West says...
There are many games in our history that contain all of the emotional ups and downs that really encapsulate what it means to be a Sunderland supporter. Last-minute winners, dramatic late draws, and of course a good amount of heartbreaking defeats. We’ve just about done it all over the years.
Selecting a single to sum it up is not easy, but one match that always stands out in my mind is the 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in February 1999. Why? Because of the crucial importance of the victory, the backdrop it was set against, and the never-say-die spirit we showed en-route to winning it. The 1998/1999 season was filled with memorable moments, and this game certainly provided another one.
Three days earlier, we’d been knocked out of the League Cup by a decent Leicester City team, losing over two legs despite pushing them hard both home and away. Still, promotion was our aim, and we had to refocus quickly, something that, under Peter Reid, we were generally extremely good at.
The atmosphere that day, right from the start, was absolutely superb, with a packed stadium determined to roar the team home once again. Allan Johnston opened the scoring with a cool finish after being put through by Niall Quinn’s flick-on, and we looked reasonably in control of matters until Andy Melville scored a peculiar own-goal, giving Wolves the equaliser and leaving us all stunned. We’d gone from elation and excitement to frustration in a matter of seconds, and now it was crunch time.
And then, as the clock ticked down, after a mad game of pinball in the Wolves box, Niall Quinn somehow managed to find a split-second in which to slam the ball past the opposition keeper. On the video review of that season, there is a memorable shot of Peter Reid punching the air in sheer, unbridled joy in the immediate aftermath of it. He wasn’t alone. There were 41,000 of us doing exactly the same thing.
The outpouring of relief and elation in the wake of Quinn’s late heroics was one of my absolute best memories of our early years at the SOL. We’d dug out a victory when it looked impossible, and another crucial three points had been secured. It really was classic Sunderland: ninety minutes of excitement, nerves, and ultimately, the joy of victory.
Tom Atkinson says...
This might sound like a bit of an odd choice, but I’d take someone to the League Cup final against Manchester City back in 2014. Although we didn’t win the game, this match perfectly sums up for me why Sunderland fans are so special.
Back then I was just eight months away from moving to the USA, and this was likely to be one of my last opportunities in the short term to see the Lads have a chance at winning something. Obviously the game didn’t go to plan, but the whole weekend was an unbelievable reminder that being a Mackem is special - something reinforced a thousand times over after moving across the pond.
The bus journey down was full of the kind of laughter that steals your breath and makes your stomach ache with hilarity. London itself was awash with red and white, mackem accents pouring out of every bar as we made our way to Covent garden.
The crowds rippled through the streets, and as you walked it was impossible not to bump into familiar faces. Songs filled the atmosphere as phone boxes and lamp posts were scaled. It felt like an invasion, as if we were out of some marauding army. It honestly felt like the entirety of Sunderland had made their way to London.
The beginning of the game, the chants, the wall of red and white, wise men say belting out from the stands, Borini bringing ultimate elation. Epic, all of it.
If someone ever wanted to understand what it meant to be a Sunderland fan; what it means to go through the constant lows yet hold onto hope and occasionally experience the highs... then the 2014 League Cup Final would be my pick.
Without a doubt it would be the semi final of the League Cup at Old Trafford in 2014.
I count that as my favourite ever experience as a Sunderland fan. The emotional rollercoaster we went on almost gave the 9000 Lads fans in attendance a heart attack - it was a game that had absolutely everything, and Sunderland achieved the impossible in defeating David Moyes’ side and winning our place in a Wembley final.
The whole day as an experience was amazing. We drank, we sang, we partied, we sang our hearts out in the ground, we were dragged through the mud, we celebrated, we endured the ecstasy of scoring and conceding late in the game, and we won a penalty shoot-out that was, quite frankly, terrible.
There wasn’t a dry eye in that away end and I admit now that I cried like a baby.
If there was ever a day that perfectly encapsulates to me what it means to support this club, it was that one. Those are experiences that all football fans should get to endure at some point in their lives - it’s what makes all the heartache worthwhile.