Promotion campaigns are wrought with excitement, a pleasure derived from watching your team swat aside challengers each week with ease. The actors of these performances are held aloft and talked about with a misty-eyed nostalgia in local pubs for years to come. There are the defining victories at the home of your fiercest rivals and heart-stopping moments that contribute to the ultimate goal of reaching the promised land.
Off all the promotion campaigns Sunderland have enjoyed in the last 30 years or so, the 2004/05 Championship winning season seems to be met with an indifferent shrug from many supporters. Mick McCarthy galvanised a struggling team that had endured an embarrassing, record-breaking exit from the Premier League just two seasons earlier; with a squad of young, hungry players, he elevated us back to the top flight of English football.
McCarthy paired previously untested lower league players such as Dean Whitehead and Liam Lawrence with youth graduates from Premier League clubs such as Stephen Elliott, in complimentary contrast to experienced older heads like Gary Breen and the wily Marcus Stewart. It culminated in a promotion that even McCarthy could not have realistically predicted, and it is all documented in the wonderful end-of-season DVD review ‘Wear On Our Way’.
In this over two-hour feature, we’re treated to interviews with Big Mick, the eloquent Carl Robinson, the constantly eyebrow-raising Breen and the sparkly ear-ringed and massive-tie donning Elliott. Expertly narrated by Simon O’Rourke and featuring stellar commentary by Roger ‘Knew What He Wanted To Do And Did It’ Thames, you’ll enjoy a real narrative of the campaign, with that healthy blob of early-noughties nostalgia.
All the big hitters are here: Livestrong bands, terrible, terrible fashion, swathes of empty seats at the Stadium of Light and a whole lot of Diadora. There’s even 17 minutes on the 2003/04 campaign, inclusive of highlights such as losing to Millwall in an FA Cup semi-final, Big Mick raging at Jeff Whitley’s play-off penalty, a sultry pronunciation of Mart Poom and a lovely, definitely not nauseating, slow motion shot of Colin Healy having his leg broken in half.
The overarching theme of ‘Wear On Our Way’, is that “every man played his part” and that may be why the season is not seen in such a light other promotion seasons have. Here, Big Mick had put together a team of relative unknowns like Mark Lynch, who is introduced as “bringing Champions League experience”, and Neill Collins, who is triumphantly heralded as playing for “Dumbarton... in Scotland”.
There is an excellent balance of on-field action and interviews, using pre-match and post-match press conferences as well as in-house talking heads. The action is picked from Sky, and ITV’s shortlived ‘The Championship’, so we get to enjoy the soothing voices of Jon Champion and Clive Tyldesley describe Julio Arca smashing in the opening goal at home to Burnley.
There are also pleasing inserts marking the death of Brian Clough with archive footage of Ol’Big Head, followed immediately by The Lads bodying Nottingham Forest in front of an empty Stadium of Light, and even a sight of the last time Brighton and Hove Albion visited Wearside. However, the undoubted star of the show is Big Mick himself.
From openly admitting the play-off semi-final defeat gave him an “empty, hollow feeling” during his summer holiday, openly mocking Steven Caldwell for taking and missing a penalty at Crewe, laughing after beating Millwall, to giving it the absolute big’un after an away win at Wigan and shedding tears with Marcus Stewart once promotion was secured - it’s a tour de force from a manager you definitely, desperately want to have a pint with.
The players themselves, while seemingly a placid bunch with very, very early-2000s fashion sense, do produce some massive results: the away victory at Leeds United in late-September felt as huge as it did at the time and the magic of Arca tearing the likes of QPR and Ipswich asunder needs no further qualification. You’ll also be forgiven for forgetting just how instrumental players like Chris Brown were, or just how great Sean Thornton’s free-kick - and rapping - abilities were.
Each aspect of the season is built up in the right manner and even small details such as outgoing transfers, returns of former players and even poignant dates are noted - there are even two shots of the 1973 cup final victory. You’re reminded of how inept Michael Ingham was, how magnificent the away following at Wigan was and just how much Big Mick lapped up all the applause after the open top bus parade.
While the 2004/05 campaign may not have been the most memorable in a lifetime, maybe its because it was sandwiched between two of the worst seasons the club has ever endured. ‘Wear On Our Way’ provides a wonderful look back on this unbeloved team.
It’s just an enormous shame that Mick’s final words of doing his “utmost to do well in the Premiership” are fatally foreshadowing the purchase of Jon Stead and a 15 point finish.