Following Sunderland at home is always a bit of an event in itself for me.
Getting the bus over from deepest darkest East Durham and going for a few pre-match pints, the game itself is often the least enjoyable part of the day.
As good as home games are, there’s always something special about getting to an away game especially if, like me, you can only get to one or two a season.
My first away day following the lads was not a match to remember, but the uniqueness of the day is something that I’ve since felt on many of the away matches I’ve got to.
It was 25 April 2009, and Sunderland were away to fellow strugglers West Brom. The Baggies were looking doomed for an immediate return to the Championship, whilst we were still in the relegation mire ourselves.
Ricky Sbragia’s men were buoyed from a desperately needed win the previous week against another struggling side, Hull City, and hopes for a win at the Hawthorns were high.
Having moved to Northampton in the previous summer, my dad and I had a relatively short train journey into Birmingham New Street.
On the train, we started chatting to some West Brom fans heading to the game who talked of how they felt their season had gone, and a brilliant sounding ‘Baggie Barge’ which took fans to and from the match via canal.
It was a train then a tram to the Hawthorns, where we visited a pub that served away fans. The name escapes me entirely - 12-year-old me was on the hard stuff... J20’s and diet cokes.
As kick-off approached, the lineup was announced and we set up like this: Marton Fulop, Phil Bardsley, Callum Davenport, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Collins, Carlos Edwards, Teemu Tainio, Andy Reid, Kieran Richardson, Djibril Cisse and Kenwyne Jones.
The buzz of going into a new football ground is something that I don’t think ever wears off for some people, and I think I’m one of those.
The Hawthorns is a decent-sized ground, and the away end was packed for this what could be described as a relegation six-pointer.
It was one of the best atmospheres’s I’d ever felt, and that was going up alongside some of the last-minute home wins in the 2007/8 season and the 2-1 against Newcastle in October 2008.
The match kicked off and both sides were feeling each other out for the most part. We attacked the end opposite to the away fans in the first half and other than a venom of an effort from Richardson we didn’t do much to test Scott Carson in the Baggies goal.
Five minutes before the end of the half, the hosts took the lead. A corner deep towards the back post eluded everyone except Jonas Olsson who managed to stay on his feet and tuck the ball underneath Fulop. 1-0.
I’d say it was a sucker-punch, but to be honest, West Brom deserved it.
Just before the hour mark, it got worse. Fortune played the ball into the box and absolutely nobody picked up Chris Brunt, who had all the time in the world to pick his spot and double their lead.
I’d seen us lose on many occasions that season, including 4-1 at home to Bolton Wanderers, and this was turning into one of those days.
Sunderland never got going and never deserved anything from the game, which was summed up when Djibril Cisse managed to block a goal-bound effort from Teemu Tainio.
The hosts sealed all three points two minutes from time when sub Menseguez turned away from Ferdinand and rifled the ball in across Fulop.
A dismal day on the pitch, would be putting it nicely. However the day itself, going to a new ground to follow the Lads with my dad, was a great experience.
My second away day would also end in defeat the following season, albeit in a dramatic 4-3 contest at Manchester City.
I should have known better than to continue following Sunderland away from home, as victories have been few and far between in the 13 years following my first trip to The Hawthorns.
But as we all know, this club just gets under your skin. Despite the loss, I loved the day out and have loved away days out ever since.