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Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy Final

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Supporting Sunderland feels good again

Over the last half dozen years or so, Sunderland AFC has given us precious little to be proud about. However, the events of early 2021 are bringing back that most important of feelings, pride. Supporting Sunderland feels good again.

Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

For too many years, the club bled funds in mad transfer deals and executive excesses. Signings were made against the manager’s wishes, court cases were lost, on and off field scandals were too common, double relegation followed - we all know the story. Shoulders and heads were dipped in the stands and it was all on show for the world to see on Netflix. Pride in the institution was lost - it felt that this loss would be permanent.

There was a brief feeling of positivity in the early days of Madrox, but promises which were given were not kept. Suspicion about motives and funding never went away.

The initial reconnection quickly diminished as on field disappointments and off the field goings on after two Wembley disappointments led to a breakdown of trust.

A year and a half of slash and burn and terrible PR through late 2019 and the nightmare which was 2020 had us fearing for the very future of the club.

Pride? What use was pride when there was so little of the club left?

Charlton Athletic v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-off Final Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Now, though, we’re into 2021 and a new owner and management team are in place, with more structural changes to come. Dare we dream of a successful new era?

Yet a modern structure and a coherent plan was unveiled. I must be honest and admit to my initial doubts as to Lee Johnson’s suitability. He seemed a little bit too chipper, a little bit too smiley - he used terms that made no sense to me. Sunderland managers were meant to brood, to be straight talkers... they weren’t meant to smile. They were meant to be tough men. But that’s very much an old fashioned and clearly outdated view.

Lee Johnson has been a breath of fresh air. He has taken a grip of what we always suspected - but rarely witnessed - that this was a superior squad for this level. We were an underperforming rag-tag who showed little pride in themselves, never mind in the shirt. Johnson turned them into a coherent unit in under 20 games.

Johnson and the squad have worked to restore pride. Each and every one of the squad seems to have bought into his methods - we are witnessing a togetherness we have not seen in years.

At the moment they - to a man - can look at themselves in the mirror and see someone who is doing his very best looking back at them. I am not sure that has always been the case this last couple of years - they must not let that slip; the job is far from done.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy Final Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

And what of the new owner Kyril Louis Dreyfus? Did any of us expect this man of privilege - a young man from the South of France - to commit to watching every game live, to commit to moving to the area, to commit to meeting the fans through the RAWA?

He has done this without fanfare or seeking a pat on the back. He can’t buy us pints at the moment but I don’t see him here for the adulation. I see him here to win. Did we believe that this would happen to us?

Pride is a great thing to have in something. The players have regained it in themselves and their careers, the managers’ hard work indicates that he has it and the owner’s commitment to his responsibilities indicates that he has it too.

It might just be the EFL Trophy, but three months into this new era, pride is returning to this football club - and that is a great thing.

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