Only a handful of people currently employed by Sunderland really know what the football club’s all about.
From Kyril Louis Dreyfus and Kristjaan Speakman to Lee Johnson and the players, they’ll have an idea about the volume of supporters we’ve got right across the world. They’ll appreciate the facilities – the Stadium of Light and the Academy – and they’ll know the history of the club to some extent.
Here at Roker Report, we’ve been fortunate enough over the years to speak to a number of former Sunderland players – players who still hold the club and the supporters in high regard, players who loved playing in the red and white stripes. Hopefully, you’ve listened to most of those podcasts too! And, when they recall the moments that are special to them, they all revolve around big games.
Key matches in front of packed crowds. Big goals scored to seal a famous victory. Playing in matches that are still talked about today.
Because that’s what it’s all about. That’s what Sunderland is all about.
However, it’s been a feeling in very short supply in recent years. Those big, white-hot atmospheres that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up have been in very short supply over the past five-ten years.
And as a result, few people currently involved in SAFC will have experienced it.
Elliot Embleton and Dan Neil will have been in the stands for some big games, Lynden Gooch likewise. Jack Diamond, maybe. Other than that, however, no-one will have experienced atmospheres like the Chelsea and Everton homes six years or so ago. Or the home wins over the mags, the Sheffield United play-off semi. Burnley at home (Edwaaaaaards!), and going further back the Chelsea semi in 92. There’ll be plenty more examples, besides.
Right now, we’ve got what is – in my view – the most promising, exciting squad we’ve had for ages. The team Bruce assembled in his first season was excellent, but did it have the same feeling of unrealised potential as we are seeing now? I don’t think it did.
And this cup run is showing the players just how big this club can be. The atmosphere at QPR in midweek was superb – almost 3000 fans on a Tuesday night is just brilliant – and you could see the players lapping it up.
Next round, we’ll play a Premier League club, and whether home or away the fans will be there in numbers and hopefully we’ll enjoy another good performance and cracking atmosphere.
And that’s a hugely important thing, because it will show the likes of Hoffmann and Dajaku, Cirkin and Huggins, that this is a seriously impressive club that’s more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with the clubs they left to join us.
This cup run will give them just a little taster of what’s possible, what’s achievable for them at Sunderland, if they can play a part in us going back up.
It could be a hugely significant experience for them, one which should deepen the fledgling connection they have with the club, and give them a glimpse of the potential of Sunderland Association Football Club.