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Sunderland v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One

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Editorial: The joys of spring, may they last for the rest of Sunderland’s season

This weekend was a relief, and has given us plenty of reasons to feel positive going into the weeks ahead. Keeping this feeling going will be important.

Photo by Trevor Wilkinson/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I didn’t get to watch Sunderland play this weekend or even follow the Lads and Lasses on Twitter during their respective games, but the notification of Nathan Broadhead’s goal, and a late afternoon giggling on the sofa in front of Super Sunday plus a Twitter update of a missed penalty in a vital yet obscure Women’s National League Division 1 game, and suddenly there’s a little spring in my step.

Yes, I’m still essentially stuck on the theme of last week’s editorial - the traditions, stories and emotions that drive our support of this football club.

Like all of us, my mood is ridiculously - perhaps even pathetically - linked to the performances of our club and our rivals on any given matchday.

Even when we try to get away, ignore the game, and give our attention for one Saturday afternoon wholly to other (more wholesome and enlightening) family activities, the base, guttural pull of football intrudes.

For me, on Saturday afternoon it was a visit to the wonderful Julian Gray exhibition at the Lowry in Salford. I should have been in a distracted, relaxed state of mind. I’d put my very limited drawing skills to the test in the interactive element of the comic book retrospective and had a quick spin around the permanent collection of the great LSL himself.

I gravitate towards two of my favourite Lowry works, “Going to the Match” - his famous scene of the crowds flocking to see Bolton Wanderers in 1953, and “The Sea” - painted from Roker seafront during his convalescence later in his life. It’s unmistakably the North Sea.

Even in here, I hear the call of the club echoing.

My wife finds an earlier Lowry seascape from her home patch on Anglesey. I get a warm sense of fatherly satisfaction as both my kids engage with these amazing works with genuine interest - they have seen the link with the comic books. I can thoroughly recommend both as a way to while away an hour or so if you’re around Salford Quays over the next couple of months.

Soccer - PFA Headquarters - Manchester Photo by Stephen Pond - PA Images via Getty Images

And the lack of a buzz on my phone in my pocket has still niggled away at me. As the unknown minutes of injury time ticked by, I paced up and down in the gift shop refreshing the BBC Sport app:

24 shots on goal, 4 on target...

80% possession...

90+4 minutes...

0-0....

Check the WhatsApps, they’re usually quicker than the Beeb... silence... yet another season in League One... oh god! I’m glad I’m not there.

Then the blessed release.

Yes! Gerrin! The Bangor Boy!

I almost skipped back to the tram station. I wish I had been there.


As we rumbled towards Trafford Bar, my younger boy glimpses the roof of Manchester United’s famous old ground where they’d just kicked off against Leicester, and starts excitedly asking about our trip to the opening match of the Euros this summer.

“Have you been there?” he asks.

Yes. Yes I have. I recalled to my lad that (exactly 18 years ago today as it happens) before I’d met his mother or “before he was even a twinkle in my eye” that I’d gone to Old Trafford with my Dad for an FA Cup Semi-Final expecting to come away with a place in Europe in our back pockets.

“Tim Bloody Cahill” was my concluding statement on the matter... somehow this painful memory had almost taken the edge off my joy at Broadhead’s last-minute winner.

My wife rolled her eyes. “Bloody football”.

I kind of have to agree.

FA Cup Semi Final: Sunderland v Millwall
On This Day (2004)... we were so close to a European spot for the first time in many of our lifetimes.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

This is the sign of an unhealthy relationship with the game and our club that I know almost everyone reading this will identify with, in one way or another. We torture ourselves with what might have been, what could happen, what is happening, what isn’t.

We ask ourselves this question so often that it is almost silly. Why do we do it to ourselves?

Folk umm and arrr over renewing their season cards because of those two. “We’ll show them (by punishing ourselves).... hit them where it hurts (us deepest)”. Then almost all eventually renew. Because that’s what they do.

We keep coming back for more because we don’t want our story to end. It’s an obsession. A compulsion. A disorder. Sunderland Association Football Club is so ingrained into us that we can sometimes drive ourselves daft with it.

But it’s nothing that can be “fixed” either through abstinence, medicine, or therapy.

When we think about the emotional connection we have with our football club, with its part in our story and our part in its, about the myriad ways in which it is linked to each and every experience and time of our lives, this starts to make sense.

It is simply part and parcel of who we are.

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

Our families, our football club, our culture. Ingrained. We want to develop a healthier relationship with our club but “things” too often get in the way to the point that we can hardly even joke about our situation without causing offence to some people.

But there is a slightly different tone to the conversations now in the wake of last-minute glory. Talk of resilience. Steel. Mental fortitude and a can-do, must-win attitude. It might not be the prettiest, but it just about works... eventually.

And that will do, for now. We just need to keep this going.

The Lads have six games this month - some of the most important games in our modern history (at least since last season and until the next absolutely crucial set, probably around this time next year) - and then, we can only hope, three more of even greater magnitude.

I’m rambling now and I fear I’m repeating myself. It’s late and it’s been a long weekend. But as we enter the final furlong on another season at Sunderland AFC, one thing is certain; it’s going to be emotional, and we’ve got to try to enjoy the ride as best we possibly can.

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