17th September, 2005
Sunderland 1 - 1 West Bromwich Albion
Cast your mind back. Gary Breen. A towering header. Goal. Big chance, Andy Gray. Missed. Bigger chance, Dean Whitehead. Missed. The last chance, Julio Arca. Missed. Zoltan Gera. Free header. Scored. 90th minute. Devastation – or is it?
I went home that day with the understanding that this would be a hellacious season, the first time as a season ticket holding supporter where I had encountered “typical Sunderland”. You know the one. The team that concedes in the last minute. The team that has the goalless become goal gluttons – “he hasn’t scored in 10 games”, striker one, Sunderland nil.
At 13 years old, this would be the first of many typical moments and yet, it became the significant moment of my supporting memories and perversely, one of my favourites.
A favourite moment must be something defining, a reason why you support the team that you do. You must take the rough with the smooth (though with Sunderland, it is the equivalent of ironing an elephant) and endure the bad times, to fully appreciate the scant good times.
On this day in 2005, I was instilled with what supporters of Sunderland have always known, and still know today – it’s the hope they can’t stand.
I could talk about when I saw Nyron Nosworthy score in the evening Portuguese sun, Michael Chopra’s last-minute winner in Roy Keane’s first Premier League game, Ji Dong-Won’s winner against Manchester City, or even the summer deadline day of 2006 – all moments of pure joy and ecstasy, and all memories that bring a smile, even now.
Whilst these events all sit proudly amongst the annals of my mind, finding the hilarity in misery – that is quintessential Sunderland. This was the afternoon I joined the ranks of my ancestral supporters. I had been initiated into the club.
I joined a plethora of dismal experiences, such as the cup failures of 1985 and 1992, relegation to the third tier under Lawrie McMenemy in the 1980s, or the lack of success endured by the much vaunted “Bank of England” club in the 1950s.
Those stains on Sunderland’s history may rank higher in terms of dread or malaise, but everyone has their own moment when they were officially indoctrinated, and this is mine.
Favourite in terms of love? No – but favourite in terms of importance? Every single time.