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Sunderland v Morecambe - Sky Bet League 1

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Time to kick on as one - unity will help Sunderland to achieve promotion this season

We’ve seen on multiple occasions over the years what this place is like when there’s momentum - in ‘96, ‘99 & 2006 Sunderland were absolutely unstoppable. Unity can help the team to achieve promotion in 2022!

Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The opinions of football supporters have always veered wildly from an expectation of incoming glory, to the distress of imminent disaster - that is the way we are wired. This is especially the case in the North East, where the mood of success-starved football fans change like the wind, and that’s where conspiracy theories thrive.

Recent talk about a range of issues at Sunderland AFC typify this. Complaints about all sorts of things have crept into the collective mindset - but setting everything aside, I have to ask: what is there to actually complain about?

Well, on the surface, we have lots to complain about.

Perhaps in the past we have been guilty of not complaining enough. Four seasons in League One isn’t something to make us happy - this coming after a humiliating relegation from the Championship, and the disastrous season under David Moyes which saw us exit the Premier League without a whimper after ten tumultuous years.

We have a right to have been miserable and to complain after all of those terrible years, but in fairness, the slide has been arrested on and off the pitch, so the frustrations of past events shouldn’t fuel current grievances, in my opinion.

We seemed so close to getting it right so many times in those Premier League years, which added to the sense of frustration, but we weren’t too close, really.

We were tumbling from one disaster to the next, surviving by the skin of our teeth - and not without a huge degree of luck.

Sunderland v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

So, what does all of that mean for where we are now? In my opinion, it means that the club and its supporters are still suffering from the frustrations that were borne of those times - times of mad excess which could not be sustained without the owner injecting a personal fortune because he chose to... and then, he chose not to.

We were conditioned to expect last-minute deadline day transfers when we were in the top flight - and whilst it was hugely exciting to watch on Sky Sports at the time, late season managerial changes breathed fresh optimism into our hearts.

There was always a news story, and we lived off it. Whilst it was thrilling and entertaining, it was entirely self-defeating as the club was built on something less secure than sand, and inevitably, here we find ourselves - in the third tier.

We watched and we were mute as the destruction of the club was unfolding in front of our eyes, forever hopeful of a late season charge whilst free tickets were issued to mask declining attendances. Still, it was Premier League football, and as long and Ellis Short funded it we did not complain - and we should have.

Where we ended up in 2018 was the fault of those in charge as we plummeted out of the top flight and Championship, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Madrox, who came in right at the end of that last Championship season, had three main jobs to do - they had to slim the club down, ensure that we were promoted straight back to the league above, and then they had to find some new capital.

Whatever is thought of that group - and there is plenty to complain about - I believe that they achieved two of their three aims.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The slashing must now be over, however, and the rebuild must commence. That is the job of the current leaders at the club, chiefly Kyril Louis-Dreyfus - they need the support of us fans more than ever if there is to be any chance of success.

So, if we are to move on from the past, what is there to complain about now, now that the club is to be rebuilt patiently to a plan? Yes, it is frustrating - it absolutely is - because many of us feel that we should be walking this league, and it is hard to argue that we should not expect better. It can be hard to pick yourself up to trod through to another League One fixture, a division in which every match feels the same.

We are in League One, and yes, there’s too much League One on our pitch; there’s too much League One in the away stands, with smoke bombs and daft songs being sung in the stadium by visiting fans... including those from not too far away - there’s too much League One in every aspect of the club itself.

We are a world away from what was presented to us in those early Stadium of Light days, when every part of the club was top draw - there’s much to do, and that frustrates people.

However, I believe that the answer isn’t to bite at the club, the manager or the players.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

We have a bunch of promising young players who can develop with us, and they need our total support.

The effort that is put in on the pitch and training pitch is evident. We have a backroom team and a structure in place which sets us up to become more sustainable - it’s far from perfect, but the reconstruction has begun.

We are in League One though, and unfortunately, the football won’t be brilliant every week - something that has to be factored in, and something I’m just going to have to accept and be patient about.

We’re in a handy position in the league. We have players set to return to full fitness, and the likes of Broadhead and Pritchard are now fit and in form. Elliot Embleton is showing signs of returning to his early-season form, and we are not reliant on a single player like Wyke, McGeady, Maja or Defoe – a common mistake by many managers at this club over the last dozen years or so.

We have a team and a squad, with a transfer window pending, where a couple of carefully selected key signings will make a huge difference. Crucially, we have staff who have a fair chance of identifying those signings - something that’s new to the club.

As the season unfolds we must turn the things that we do have on our side - mainly, our crowds, our stadium and our big pitch - into advantages.

I honestly believe that all of us - even those that aren’t totally convinced by what the current manager is trying to - really need to find it in ourselves to do the one thing that we were born to do, and that is to be as supportive as we can be without dredging up things from the past that have no real bearing on what’s happening right now.

We’ve seen on multiple occasions over the years what this place is like when there is momentum - in 1996, 1999, and 2006 we were absolutely unstoppable.

The team and the crowd were as one in those years.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to experience that again in the first half of 2022?

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