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Editorial: The Qatar World Cup gives Sunderland fans time to pause for thought

I guess we can breathe now. Pause. Take stock. Recover somewhat... But what we can’t do is stop.

Photo by Isaac Parkin/PA Images via Getty Images

I guess we can breathe now. Pause. Take stock. Recover somewhat.

We can now also take a little time to reflect - this year has seemingly disappeared at a frantic pace - so much has happened in football and beyond, so much drama, so much change, so much worry and fear on and off the pitch, that the mind boggles when trying to remember it all.

Yet it has all been interspersed with moments of pure joy on the field of play that will live long in the memory, and there’s surely still more one or two more to come.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

On Friday night, amidst the tension and drama in Birmingham, came the latest. We were all dazzled by the ability of one 20-year-old lad who came to Europe as a young boy and now has the world at his two unbelievably talented feet, and he gave us one more of these moments to send us into the World Cup with a spring in our step.

Tony Mowbray has spoken about how Amad has been shy and reserved since joining on loan, but how he is now just about coming out of his shell and connecting with the squad beyond the small group of fellow Francophone newcomers. And with his goal - and the celebration - it felt like a new bond was being created between him and our supporters.

He’s quite simply a remarkable talent - the kind of player we have very rarely seen in red and white - who could have an impact that lasts well beyond his time on Wearside. During Friday’s game, I half-jokingly said to my fellow editors that he could be the most gifted player the Lads have had since Len Shackleton.

Like so many of these players we have right now, it’s important that we all remember that he really is only a kid and, for him in particular, he’s a lad whose five-year contract at Manchester United wasn’t handed out for nothing. We need to enjoy him while we can.

Birmingham City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

When the buzz from that well-earned win dies down and everyone is focused on the World Cup, we will hopefully be watching the emergence onto the global scene of that other raw youngster, Jewison Bennette, whose star could shine for Costa Rica as they face Spain, Japan, and Germany in Qatar.

So along with England (for most) and Wales (for some), both Los Ticos, whose squad also includes Brian Oviedo, and Bailey’s Socceroos will provide Sunderland fans with plenty of interest, in the group stages at least.

We cannot and should not ignore human rights violations at home and abroad, and we should use the power and profile of our game to shine a light on injustices whether they’re perpetrated in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, or, indeed, in Kent.

Players, coaches, administrators, and fans should reflect upon our own personal and collective behaviour too, try to think before we open our mouths, and approach others with openness and friendship wherever and whenever we can. Too often these days, the cover of “banter” is used to ridicule and demean people simply for their physical appearance or sexual orientation.

Nevertheless, no game unifies our planet like this one, and despite all the efforts at sports washing by despots and the corruption that was the heart of the game’s governing body, the universal values of mutual respect and fair play that football embodies will - I believe - ultimately shine through.

Our club isn’t perfect, there’s always room for improvement and right now they need to get a grip on the reports of racism in the stands, but it’s so good in so many ways it’s a true beacon in the darkness. Reading Sir Bob Murray's interview in the Guardian this week brought home just what a special position the Foundation of Light holds in our city, and the crucial role it plays in bringing boys and girls from all backgrounds together to play our beautiful game.

So yes, this is a point at which we can pause and reflect. But what we can’t do is stop, for there’s plenty of work left to do this calendar year even if your name is not Jewison Bennette or Bailey Wright.

And, of course, Football in England hasn’t all been put on hold for the rest of the month. Sunderland Women will be back in action at Eppleton on Sunday against Lewes, providing fans with an opportunity to cheer on Mel Reay’s side in a massively important game, one of two season-defining league fixtures that they face before Christmas.

Grace McCatty & Neve Herron

As always, the Lasses will show in these games that they are at the very heart and soul of our club in a way that should make every Sunderland supporter proud - they live the values we all want to see in our game in their work on and off the pitch.

And for us here at Roker Report, the run-up to the festive celebrations will be as busy as ever. This week we’re attending both the Football Content Awards in Manchester and the Football Supporters Association Awards in London where we are honoured to have been nominated by you, our readers, for a couple of gongs.

After what’s been a pretty emotional and somewhat exhausting year, these two glamourous occasions will provide our team of writers and podcasters with an opportunity to look back with pride on some of our achievements, and think about how this fanzine continues to develop and serve you - our readers and listeners, as well as our football community.

In December we will be launching our annual Christmas appeal for our friends at the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen. Andrea Bell and her team were down at the Stadium of Light last week taking collections, and we all know that with the economic crisis engulfing families across the north east, the wonderful work of that amazing charity will be all the more vital this winter.

Donations have already started to come in from Sunderland business leaders, and we hope that more of those with the deepest pockets will be able to share the wealth with the growing number of men, women, and children in dire need of food and warmth in our city right now.

There’s so much that divides us - socially, politically, and economically - but I truly believe that our shared humanity, and our shared love of this beautiful game, will continue to bring people together like never before.

Roker Report meets Andrea Bell at the Soup Kitchen last Christmas

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