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Sunderland AFC are the talk of the town again - and that can be a good thing for all concerned!

It was back to school for a lot of kids on Wearside this week, and a chance for the adults to catch up with one another on the school run.

My youngest child has started at a new school in the city and at drop off it was pleasing to see how many of the other kids had SAFC bags or were wearing clothes with the club crest on.

This was nothing too unusual admittedly – it was a similar situation at the last school, and all the others my children have been to in truth – but what really struck me was the group of Dads waiting at the gates that I overheard talking about our current form in glowing terms.

In the past, it would be common to get chatting to other people whilst you saw your kids in or waited in the yard for them to come out at the end of the day. Other parents you already knew, or you simply recognised from the games would have a bit crack about the match or the latest transfer rumours, but in recent seasons that has been replaced by a shake of the head and an attempt to move the conversation onto something else.

It has been a difficult time for supporters over the last few seasons and a lot of fans simply did not want to think about it.

Sunderland Supporters Evening
It’s good to enjoy catching up with John O’Shea and Wes Brown
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It might seem like a little thing, but I dare say this has been happening in bait rooms, at the bar, and over garden fences across Wearside.

Hopefully, though, we are now witnessing a shift back the other way; it was noticeable that a work colleague of mine said on Monday that he had been disappointed to learn our game at Sheffield Wednesday was called off due to international fixtures.

I think the last time he had mentioned football to me was when Jermain Defoe was still here, and whilst he is not a match-goer, he likes to see the Lads do well and will often meet his mates in town for a few beers after a home game.

If that trip to town is on the back of a win, a group invariably stays out longer and spends more cash. Come Monday morning they, and thousands of others, have a spring in their step – whether they are back on the school run, heading into work, or off to sort whatever ever else they have going on. Production rises, output improves and well, everybody is just that little bit happier with the world and each other.

BRITAIN-BREXIT-EU-POLITICS Photo credit should read ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

Undoubtedly, the success of Sunderland the place and Sunderland the club go hand in hand. I know not everybody in the city supports the club, and not everybody that supports the club is from the city, but the two are certainly linked. Everybody benefits from a feel-good factor, and the benefits of improving fortunes and changing perceptions of both the city and club will rub off on each other.

This was reflected in Chief Operations Officer Steve Davison’s comments this week when he confirmed that the club was backing the city’s first Business Festival, due to take place in October:

As a lifelong Sunderland fan, I have witnessed first-hand just how much this club means to the city and its people, which is why we have been working tirelessly as a club to rebuild relationships with supporters and the wider city.

Whilst we all know that our matchdays and concerts are an important part of life in the city, one of the other huge positives I have witnessed in my first few months has been the common desire within the city to improve the experience of working and living in Sunderland

Sharing this common aim is extremely beneficial and we will continue to work together to accelerate progress, which is why we are delighted to support the city’s first ever business festival where we will showcase our recent actions and present our future plans.

As one of the largest venues in the city, we’re delighted to be playing host to key parts of the Festival at the Stadium of Light. The full details of the programme will be released soon and we are delighted that both the club and the Foundation are right at the heart of it.

The early signs under the ownership of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus are very encouraging. Those running the club will, I imagine, be acutely aware that there is still plenty of work to be done, but the impressive start to the season has bought them much needed time and patience from fans as whilst an attractive playing style and what looks like a clear recruitment policy has got people talking in positive terms again, it also means there is a bit more goodwill being shown towards the club in other aspects of its running.

Some key appointments have been made on the football side of things and these already appear to be bearing fruit on the pitch – both with the men’s teams and Sunderland AFC Ladies, who have also started the season well.

Hull v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
The man with the plan?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It has to be said however that questions remain about some of the subsidiary parts of the club, with questions recently being raised for example about ticketing, the move to a cashless stadium and the continued absence of a physical club shop.

People often say that results are all that matters in football but that is only true to an extent and if Sunderland are to succeed, more needs to be done with the wider infrastructure of the club. Strong foundations take time to create, but at the moment there is an overall willingness to accept the fact that outside influences such as the ramifications of Brexit and the ongoing pandemic, plus the legacies of previous owners, make implementing plans even harder.

The recent announcement that the club would be working with the Maxim Brewery to provide locally produced beer on the concourses suggests they understand what some fans want though, and if the same levels of care and thought that are being displayed within the playing staff are also being applied to the wider elements of the club, the wait should be worth it.

For now, however, cheery conversations look set to remain. When I was at school, it seemed as if all me and my mates wanted to talk about was the Lads. Some kids were lured in by the glory clubs of course, but that doesn’t seem to be as prominent in Sunderland as it is some places, despite the spells of poor form, and it is heartening to still see so many youngsters falling in love with the club. It is just as pleasing though that some of the adults appear to be following suit again as well.


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