The 2012-13 season ended in a similar way to many others for Sunderland as the campaign fizzled out and a manager lost his job in the closing months. However, the man to who would replace the departing boss - Martin O’Neil - would be perhaps the most bizarre appointment in the club’s recent history.
Paolo Di Canio had the League Two title in his trophy cabinet after storming the league with Swindon Town. However, despite this, his managerial career was still very green. For this reason, his appointment as Sunderland boss raised more than a few eyebrows on Wearside and further afield. Could he provide the spark to fire up a team which was sleepwalking towards relegation? We would soon see.
His first match in charge was a baptism of fire. Chelsea away from home could have ended far worse than it did. A 2-1 defeat, in which Sunderland were 1-0 up at the break, gave some optimism that we could stave off relegation.
The following week would see Sunderland go head to head with arch-rivals Newcastle. You would need to go back to 2008 for our last win over the old enemy, and expectations weren’t exactly high going into this one.
However, the events at St James’ Park on that Sunday afternoon in April would be remembered forever more. Goals from Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and David Vaughan - the Welshman’s goal being the reason for Paolo’s dirty knees - brought pandemonium in the away end and across Sunderland. That day, we fell in love with Paolo Di Canio and his injection of passion.
The Di Canio love-in carried on the following week when Sunderland turned over Everton at the Stadium of Light, with the Italian’s name ringing around the SoL long after full time. Sunderland were all but safe, this despite a horror show 6-1 defeat at Aston Villa the week after.
The Italian had succeeded and kept us up. The summer would give us the chance to regroup, and Paolo said he was determined to build a quality side. A pre-season tournament in Asia provided the chance to have a look at new Sunderland players, 14 came through the door across that summer. I watched the semi-final victory over Tottenham, fittingly, in Rome. We looked good, and my stupid hope that this was the dawn of a bright era was returning.
The start of the campaign changed everything, though. Paolo was sacked as Sunderland manager after picking up one point from five games. The final straw being a 3-0 capitulation at West Brom.
When away fans hurled abuse at him, Paolo gestured for them to ‘keep their chins up’. Shortly after, his very short and equally strange tenure came to an end. His horrific signings did their best to try and make the campaign one of the worst in our history; thankfully, Gus Poyet was on hand to guide us through the greatest of escapes.
The tenure of Paolo Di Canio started off bizarrely and got better, then a lot worse. From his dazzling jumper he wore on his first match at Stamford Bridge, to the sprinting down the touchline at St James’ Park, and the final nail in the coffin at the Hawthorns, Paolo Di Canio will be forever remembered on Wearside has being unpredictable, passionate, and down right bat sh*t crazy.