It’s difficult to ignore old wounds; the mere mention of Wembley tends to pull the corpses of misery and disappointment from their oft shallow graves in the mind of most Sunderland fans. The media - professional or otherwise - will make sure we remember the pain particularly keenly for the period leading up to any visit.
Too easy for the clicks you see, too easy to exploit for a quick soundbite, too easy to jump on as a basis for a long pointless article from some dull mag journo behind a paywall - those without much knowledge of our club or care for its fans find it all too tempting to try to grab the attention of the fanbase during these periods of time using whatever means necessary.
That’s entertainment for you (if you’re the type to find it entertaining) but it’s more than a once-a-year novelty for us - we all live and breathe our club in a way that is all-consuming - there is no escape for the fans when all is said and done.
Whatever the result we’ll either hastily bury another body in our graveyard of failures past… or we’ll be consumed by the elation the promise of a (real) new dawn brings.
As the first flickering beams of hope start to creep across the cloudy night sky of the third tier we’ve collectively sat beneath for the last four or five years, Alex Neil prepares the lads for an appearance on the biggest stage in English football - some will be facing it for the first time, some will be trying to distance their minds from the heartache they’ve experienced on their prior visits, maybe one or two will look kindly back to their EFL Trophy success last summer.
I was asked to suggest what could be said to the squad ahead of the meeting with Ainsworth’s quaint little shithouse militia, but do I really need to say anything?
I’m in something of a strange place currently as I’m not actually suffering from any doubt - where usually there would be some concern surrounding the fitness of certain players, the possible selections our gaffer could make, the danger of the opposition we face - I don’t feel any of it.
I think the nerves and those ghosts I mentioned previously are just fading, and the reason for this is watching our side this season.
Under both Lee Johnson and Alex Neil, I’ve felt a confidence I’ve rarely felt throughout my few decades of support. Two opposites, one now long gone, and the other picking up the proverbial baton and not so much running as just f*cking strolling along with it.
Neil has an attitude towards each match - and the media - that many of us have come to love. His contempt for daft questions is clear, his mockery of those who seek to unnerve and try to land some lazy telegraphed jab equally so - and it demonstrates what some may see as arrogance - but that’s what we need.
That attitude is what I believe will drag us through the coming madness and out of this bastard division. That sheer belief in his own ability, that seeming lack of doubt over what is required, that mentality has crept into the minds of the players - Alex Neil has reminded some of these lads that they are actually professional footballers, and more importantly that the task before them is only as difficult as they make it for themselves.
We’ve seen performances in the run-in that aren’t as pretty as the football played at the start of the season, but performances that reflect the gaffers no-nonsense approach, and more importantly performances that show the heart of this side. To players like Lynden Gooch, Bailey Wright and others, this man has been an inspiration.
Their passion for the club, the fans, and their leader has been particularly impressive to witness after appearing to fade for a short time.
I just hope they know that they, like the rest of the fanbase, need not burden themselves with previous memories of Wembley - regardless of what happens they’ve shown all the strength in character we’ve ever wanted to see from them.
No bullsh*t, no f*cking about, no dreaming of what might or could have been…
Just one more game lads, you all know what to do.