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Reader’s Corner: The trials and tribulations of a Sunderland mad nine-year-old!

Sunderland-supporting dad Gareth Duff tells the story of his son Ollie, who is nine years old and learning the hard way about what it feels like to be in love with this godforsaken football club.

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

As we trudged back to the car after the Accrington game, feeling as flat as a concourse pint, my little lad Ollie, as enthusiastic and as positively as ever asked “we still going to Bolton Dad?”. “Yes mate” was my sheepish response. I didn’t want to, at all.

You see, to me, there was this air of inevitability about what was about to happen. We’d seen some of the manager's streaks before, and were even warned about them by fans of Bristol City, but what could I say? He loves it, or rather he did love it.

Cast your mind back a few months. The sun is belting and there’s a whiff of positivity in the air. This season, was meant to be THE one. My first season ticket for a good few seasons (my first ever one with the bairn!). Fans allowed back. New manager at the helm with new ideas and philosophy. This was it! A solid end to pre-season against Hull, followed by an equally impressive season opener against a resolute Wigan side featuring some familiar faces.

August was a great month, bar a trip to Burton.

September not too bad either, to be honest, earning 10 points out of a possible 12.

Then, the cracks began to appear. October and November, convincing wins followed by more convincing losses. Something needed doing about the manner of the losses but it never was.

We seemed weak/soft, tired and probably honest to a fault. This is a physical division and a bit of sh*thousing goes a long way. We didn’t have that and it was glaringly obvious. Teams had found the chink in our armour: “stop them from playing and rough them up a bit”.

We had gone from blowing teams away, to being so predictable and easy to play against in the space of about two months.

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League 1 Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

December was decent again - we had a good points return, keeping us in touch with the top two, and a trip to the capital in the quarter final of the league cup for good measure! The superstitious cynic (I know right!) in me insists that December only papers over said cracks, in an attempt not to get carried away and curse it.

New year arrives, the transfer window opens, and it’s a chance for KLD to put his hand in his pocket and strengthen an injury-riddled squad. Kristjaan Speakman has his data-driven transfer model, and must have some targets. Surely we’d kick on.

Covid strikes and, amidst all the cancellations of matches, the club decide we should play, leaving the majority of the fan base scratching their heads. Little did we know how much of a turning point it would become.

We plod on in January with tired legs, failing tactics and systems, and are totally void of ideas. Frustrations were building, and fans calling for Johnson head yet again.

Something had to give.

So we’re now at Bolton - I was feeling totally uninspired, and Ollie, my son, was as passionate as ever. We chatted in the car about who we thought should play where, the usual pre-match gab. Ollie was singing his heart out in the boozer pre-game, and then when we got into the ground we put his flag up. He was still singing his little heart out for the lads.

Sunderland then did Sunderland things and produced one of THE worst performances I’ve seen in my 30 years of following the lads.

Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

We were 2-0 down at half time, and it was obvious it wasn’t going to get any betterm so I asked Ollie if he wanted to go home.

“Not yet Dad, we might pull it back”.

I just nodded and smiled.

At 3-0 he still wanted to stay, but his demeanour changed, and at 4-0 he asked to go home. He sat in silence most of the way, and when he spoke it wasn’t about the game.

He’s Nine years old, and he’s feeling like that already.

I tried to tell him it’ll get better, but my facial expression tells a different story.

Then, Johnson was sacked, and Jermain Defoe was linked, as well as Roy Keane.

Nearly 40,000 mad lads and lasses crammed into the SoL for the Doncaster game, and the excitement we felt in pre-season was back.

Then... wallop!

We were back down to earth with a bump as the performance was as bad as it was the week before. The interim coach hadn’t expected it, despite picking ten of the same gadgies that got it handed to them then.

Tuesday’s performance wasn’t quite as bad, though we still got beat. Sunderland did their best impression of Jekyll and Hyde again though, and it was truly a game of two halves. Our inability to deal with yet another long ball was exposed and bang, we suffered another loss.

Now the playoffs look unlikely, let alone the top two.

The bairn knocked the TV off and sighed before he headed upstairs to bed.

I really feel for him at the minute, and the thousands of others like him.

We’re hurting, massively. Someone needs to come in, whoever it may be, and give these players a massive kick up the backside.

This team and set of players don’t deserve our fans, and they certainly don’t deserve Ollie.


Farewell, Tony, and thanks for the Sunderland memories


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