When Sunderland have both of our men’s and women’s teams in the top tier of English football, you know all is right with the world.
In November 2009, the Lads were having a very decent season indeed, and after a 1-0 win over Arsenal at the Stadium of Light, Steve Bruce’s side sat eighth in the Premier League.
Darren Bent had grabbed the goal, supported in a hard-working midfield by the likes of Steed Malbranque, Kieran Richardson, and Lorik Cana.
We also had a young Jordan Henderson in the men’s side, and there was also another future England international named Jordan - Jordan Nobbs - who was making waves on the Lasses side of the club too.
Having gone all the way to the FA Cup Final that spring and given Arsenal - the dominant side of the time who had only lost once in six years - a hell of a fright in a 2-1 defeat, we had been promoted to the Women’s National Premier League 1, the top tier, and Sunderland Women looked set to become a real established force.
The season had gotten off to a good start, with our only league defeats coming against Forest, Jill Scott’s Everton, and the Chelsea side we’d vanquished at the Stadium of Light in the Semi Final of the cup.
And so the week before, Sunderland Women had travelled south to play the Gunners and come away with a goal - but we conceded five in return. Historically, this would have been seen as a pretty decent result, given the gulf in resources between the two set-ups.
But at Eppleton that day, with Arsene Wenger’s side having been sent back down the A1 with their tails between their legs, Mick Mulhern’s women managed what had for many years seemed almost impossible, and grabbed all three points.
The Sunderland starting lineup included Nobbs, Demi Stokes, Lucy Staniforth, Kelly McDougall, Rachel Laws, and Abby Holmes. Arsenal’s side read like a roll-call of the greatest names in the history of the game - Katie Chapman, Jayne Ludlow, Rachel Yankie, Gilly Flaherty... it was some team.
We managed to get to 0-0 at half-time, but then the legendary Scottish forward Kim Little scored her 23rd goal of the season, latching onto a Julie Fleeting pass to round Laws and score.
Four minutes later, however, Sunderland were level through Stockton’s finest export, Nobbs, with Sophie Williams getting the assist. It set up a barn-storming finish to the game, with both sides pressing for the winner.
And it was Nobbs who was decisive, crossing for Scoucer McDougall to score the winner with only a few minutes left on the clock. It was a monumental moment, a stand-out result in our club’s history, and to that point the greatest victory this young side had achieved.
With two wins against the Londoners in two days, it was a brilliant weekend. Reflecting on the result in an interview with Roker Report - The Lasses Podcast earlier this year, defender Gemma Wilson, told the story of that season and this result in particular.
I think that was their only defeat that year in the league, and only the second time they lost domestically in six years - they had an amazing, amazing side.
Them coming up here and us looking for a result, looking to come out with three points, it was a massive change in mentality and culture within the club.
We knew and we trusted who was in front of us, who was behind us, who was alongside us. You knew that if you made a mistake, you had two or three players who were there to pick it up, and we had that core through the spine of the team with experience, then we had the youth and the flare around us as well, and it was just an amazing, amazing year.
We followed up this great victory with a 2-0 win over Chelsea, who we’d vanquished in the FA Cup Semi-Final at the Stadium of Light. We finished the season in fifth, winning 12 of the 24 league games we played.
But the club’s lack of wholehearted support for the Lasses, not for the last time, would stand in the way of their continued progress. The club’s application to join the new and exclusive Women’s Super League was unsuccessful, and a generation of players moved on to bigger and better things.
Nobbs had made her mark on Arsenal, not only in this game and the FA Cup Final, and Wilson knew that she would go on to be a superstar.
If you asked me one player who I knew would make it, it was Jordan. There are some aspects of the game that you can train into people but there are some aspects of the game that are just within certain players, and that ability to read the game and that football intelligence is something that the likes of Jordan, Lucy [Bronze] and Lucy Stan[isforth], they had that already built in them, it was then just about making sure that they met the potential that was already there.
It took us another four years to get into the WSL, only for that dream to be ruined by yet another abandonment. Yet the dream of top having two-flight sides at Sunderland AFC is still there, it should be the driving ambition of the whole operation - it is rightly the expectation of many Lasses fans.