Luke O’Nien is the co-host of a podcast, The Footballer’s Mindset, along with Rob Blackburne and Wycombe Wanderers Matt Broomfield.
On the most recent episode of the show, the focus was on Sunderland’s Papa John’s Trophy win against Tranmere Rovers, where O’Nien discusses the team’s recent form, what the feeling is like around the camp and how playing at Wembley differs with and without fans, along with much more.
O’Nien explained how he believes there is an unexplainable feeling around the camp that means the expectation on the team from the outside is now matched inside the club, and how that was not there in the previous two seasons:
The last two or three years, we kinda had that expectation, pretty much every game we’ve played in because we’re a giant in League One.
Every team that comes we are expected to win and, for example, this season we have 10 games to go, we expect every game we go into to win but I think probably it’s the first time where the expectation from the outside is met by the inside, in terms of I think we genuinely believe now that we are going into games and we can win every single one of them.
I’m not saying that we didn’t have that belief the last couple of seasons but I think the proof is in the feel in the camp is there, the understanding around the boys, you can just feel it.
There’s just a feel around a club that’s just unexplainable and we’ve got that, if you’re losing a game you feel like you can come back.
We were 2-0 down to Crewe away the other day and we scored two late goals, it wasn’t our best performance but we can almost feel that we’re going to win and the goals going to come from somewhere.
So having that expectation is something that I think we’ve always had.
He then went on to contrast his previous Wembley appearances, notably the 2019 EFL Trophy final against Portsmouth, with the final against Tranmere, a game that was played without fans.
That game against Portsmouth was his first match at Wembley, with the unbelievable atmosphere pre-match leaving him with goosebumps but he revealed that when it comes to playing the match, there is no difference as he can get so focused in-game that he almost becomes deaf:
So the first time I went there, it’s still there as one of my favourite moments. It was a dream of mine to play at Wembley, living close, going past it on the train, watching England play there, absolute dream.
So then to play there, I was like a little kid, I was like ‘this is amazing!’ and I remember warming up and then a song came on, before every game they play Elvis Presley ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’, that plays before every Sunderland game and it’s the best.
I remember we were warming up and then it came on over the tannoy and we had 45,000 people singing it and I stopped my warm up, I just stopped and I remember looking around and I had my family up in the gods because I couldn’t afford - I had to buy 54 tickets for my family and I could only afford the cheap ones at the top - so I’m like I’m sure that’s my dad up there and I’m going to wave but I remember looking up and I had my dad, my brother, my sister, my friends, my girlfriend, my nan and granddad, they were all linking arms and I looked around the stadium, half the stadium and there are people holding Sunderland scarfs, you had old people, young people, you had the kids and everyone’s singing their heart out. A ball hasn’t been kicked, I remember looking up and seeing the arch and I was like ‘this is incredible’, it was loud as anything and I got goosebumps.
I saved the video on my phone because someone recorded it.
So having fans, that was special, again it creates excitement, you can hear the fans. As soon as the game starts, I go into this zone where I forget, even my hearing sometimes turns off I am that focused - I remember speaking to the gaffer at Wycombe, I think he was shouting at me really loud once and I was right next to him but because I was so focused my hearing sometimes just switches off and I can’t hear anyone, that’s sometimes why I rely on vision - so when we kind of went to the Wembley without fans, you get into a rhythm and you forget the occasion, you focus on the game, not the cup final, not the past performances, you just focus on the game and that’s where I was.
When the game finishes, yeah you take it in all around you but as the actual game is going ahead, for me I don’t think there is much of a difference because I am so focused on everything around me.
You can listen to the full The Footballer’s Mindset: Winning At Wembley with O’Nien by clicking play on the podcast below.