Watching the match at Portsmouth, the camera panned to the stand, and I swore I saw Harry Potter watching the match. But it wasn’t that magician.
It was Kyril Louis-Dreyfus. The new wizard on Wearside.
The 23-year-old has in a matter of a few weeks transformed the mood at Sunderland. His long-awaited arrival was met with a collective sigh of relief and a huge breath of optimism which thus far has been well-founded. The team is thriving and Dreyfus, with an honest well-meaning letter to the fans, has reinvigorated the club with an air of quiet confidence.
It is early days of course but I have not encountered such optimism from the fans for some time. One only has to read the reaction on social media to the win at Portsmouth to sense the wave of euphoria and expectation.
Wembley beckons, and far from worry about facing another Wembley failure, the mood has been spiked with unbounded expectations that Sunderland are more than capable of the double this week, with a win at Portsmouth and a win at Wembley.
Don’t get me wrong. Tranmere Rovers are a team on the up themselves. They too have a more than fair chance of promotion this season. They go to Wembley on the back of a good run and a win on Tuesday too, but the way in which Sunderland won at Portsmouth betrayed what Gary Bennett described as a ‘swagger’.
They managed and controlled the match with consummate ease, and if they take that into the Final on Sunday, I have no fears Sunderland will finally break the Wembley hoodoo.
It’s a great shame Dion Sanderson won’t be able to play on Sunday.
His contribution of late has been outstanding as has Luke O’Nien’s bid to convince Lee Johnson he is a centre-back. At least though Sanderson will be there to witness the match - unlike the many many thousand fans who can’t be there but who in an act of remarkable togetherness have raised over £116,000 with the virtual ticket campaign thought up by Peter Richardson.
Unbounded congratulations all round. It seems a strange thing to say, but actually having a piece of tangible evidence of the final whether it be the ticket or a Final programme, makes not being there a little easier to take. It’s still a bitter pill to swallow but it nevertheless gives one a connection with the day.
As an eleven year old I watched the 1973 FA Cup final on my grandfather’s colour TV in Exeter. I had with me the Cup Final programme. In those days you could buy them in ‘Smith’s’ beforehand, and for me it was marvellous to have it while watching the final.
I still have it as I’m sure just about every Sunderland fan across the world has.
This final hasn’t the same cachet of course as the FA Cup Final, but nonetheless, it is a Wembley final. It is a final representative of the level Sunderland currently play at and I would rather see a win in the record books than another ‘runners up’.
Hopefully in a few years time we will reflect on the ‘Wilderness Years’ and amidst the rancour of the seasons spent trawling around the country being belittled at Shrewsbury or Burton, exacerbated by this exceptional pandemic season with its travel bans and having to watch matches on your TV or computer, we can take some succour from showing how big a club Sunderland is by winning a trophy and climbing back to where this great cub belongs.
On that journey we can reflect not only on the bad days but on the good days too.
The rain at Accrington, the thousands at Blackpool and winning handsomely at Lincoln as Lee Johnson’s arrival heralded the arrival of the bespectacled wizard.
I wonder, if like Harry, he has a wand.