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Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final

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Roker Report’s Alternative Christmas Speech: 2022

As another yuletide extravaganza comes around, we look back on 2022, which was quite a year to be a Sunderland fan...

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Did you all get what you asked for? I’m not sure if I did, because there is simply no possible way to wrap three points against Blackburn and stick it under the tree.

As we reflect back on a rollercoaster year, we should all reconcile ourselves with the cold hard truth that our club is, and always will be, in a constant state of flux. So strap yourselves in for whatever 2023 brings.

While we are normally this capricious ball of frustration, anger and desperation, seemingly circling the plughole of footballing doom, this year - praise be! - we look a lot healthier than we did 12 months ago.

That isn’t to say it’s been a struggle to get to this point. In fact the times when the situation looked decidedly dicey were numerous.

It got me thinking, if this football club was a comedy programme, it probably would be Father Ted.

When we sacked LJ and went two weeks without a manager - losing to Doncaster and Cheltenham in the process, it felt a bit like the time Dougal (aka poor old Mike Dodds) was stuck on the milk float that Pat Mustard had rigged with a bomb which would detonate if it went under four mph.

Cheltenham Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

When we gambled and lost on Defoe’s return, it was our kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse moment.

And the 6-0 defeat to Bolton? Probably like when the priests got stuck in the lingerie section of the department store, with absolutely no idea how to get out of this stickiest of situations.

However, that glorious day in May as we put Wycombe to the sword was such a moment of absolute clarity, joy and vindication, it was akin to when Father Jack gains a wonderful serenity during the changing of the seasons. Or maybe when Ted wins the golden cleric and embarks on a speech full of his grievances.

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

And I know this was over two years ago, but the Parky era was basically like the episode where Father Stone came to stay. I’ve just thought of this analogy now however, so I make no apologies for dragging it back up.

So as January turned to February, Speakman put a bullet in the brain of the family puppy, Lee Johnson, and in came Alex Neil, who was more Dogo Argentino to Johnson’s Bichon Frise.

The truth is though, it was the best thing that could have happened. Neil was astute, stable and above all a consistent winner. Alas, it didn’t last and Neil is now flailing around in the bisque that is the mid-table of the Championship - along with us, it has to be said.

And so the opportunity to manage this wonderful club came to the door of Tony Mowbray. Most of us love him, don’t we? Like the kindly uncle who’s just done his 30 years in the police, never putting a foot wrong, always doing his duty. Now, however, he’s putting his time into coaching your under 12s football team. Granted, he’s a bit less refined than Neil - tactically flabby, to be a tad unkind. Someone who doesn’t mind making the toast at breakfast time, but leaves the buttery knife on the side.

Huddersfield Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by John Early/Getty Images

However, he’s the right man for the current situation, and by and large, he’s bought contentment to the fanbase of Sunderland. Mowbray is a thoroughly decent man and should be afforded far more patience than others before him have been given, so let’s hope that continues into 2023.

Away from football, it’s been another year of turmoil. The political upheaval has seen the bodies of former prime ministers pile up high. Add that to the war in Ukraine, the spiralling costs of everything from your heating bills to the price of a frozen pizza in Aldi (I was shocked when I went in the other day), it means that many of us are looking for solace in our club. Simply put, we want to find the escape from the pressures of life.

So in that sense it’s thanks to the players and staff at Sunderland for providing that.

For the first time in a very long time, I see a group of players that are to a man really likeable people. Every single one of them has made a valuable contribution to our success in 2022 and that shouldn’t be glossed over.

Whether it was Embo’s strike against Wycombe, the 1,000 goals Ross Stewart scored, Patto’s saves, or the commitment of lads like Luke O’Nien and Danny Batth - the pair of whom would head away breeze blocks if they were asked to.

Everyone has played their part.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

They should be proud too that they can say they have played their role in the recovery of this football club on that day in May. Though I have supported this club now for almost 30 years, it’s a day that is probably unparalleled because of the context of it all. What great times, and an experience which brings into sharp clarity why we love this club, this city, so much.

However as we reflect on this, we should also reflect on what good the people of this great city can do. It’s encapsulated none more so in the work of the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen. True acts of altruism by people who think only of others, and run this fantastic service not for the plaudits, but because it’s just the right thing to do; for that Andrea and the team should be heralded from the highest point of Wearside.

To see people without power or influence having to step in to fill the void created by a lack of funding or support that really should come from elsewhere is a sobering one. So I would urge those who can, it’s not too late, please support this service which is vital to so many people across the city.

At the time of writing, over £27,000 has been raised. It really does go to show that even though this is a football city, with the game woven into its streets, it’s not really about Sunderland AFC - it’s about Sunderland.

Have a great Christmas everybody - and here’s to a successful 2023, both on and off the pitch.

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