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

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Editorial: Passion, Pride, and Plans - the impact of promotion is profound for Sunderland AFC

So much emotion, so many memories made and tears of joy shed. A big summer awaits, but for now we need to embrace the feeling and keep the momentum going.

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Well, what a weekend we had. If anyone doubted the power of this sport to unify and amplify people, surely Sunderland AFC and our supporters have shown it in technicolor, stereo sound, and high definition like never before.

I say “never before” as I doubt there have ever been 50,000 supporters cheering for one club at the modern incarnation of Wembley. And never have we heard our always vociferous support quite so loud. So deafeningly, defiantly, deliciously loud.

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

I won’t even begin to try to sum up the 95 minutes of football that we saw unfold in front of us on a spectacular late spring afternoon, but I will say that that was a game plan executed almost perfectly, with 14 players each doing the job they were asked to do with aplomb. Heroes to a man, this squad has finally realised its potential on the biggest stage.

I reserve some praise for two groups of people. Firstly, the ordinary Londoners who not only tolerated us with generally good humour but welcomed us and helped us get about. They kept us fed and watered, and we encountered many strangers who wished us well - from the proprietors of a little newsagent to the couple sitting next to us in a bar.

Secondly, the Wycombe Wanderers fans who were so friendly and magnanimous in their defeat. They seemed absolutely genuine in the good wishes they uttered when passing Sunderland supporters after the game. Interesting, honest and reflective conversations were had between fans in red and white and those in two shades of blue on trains and tubes, in queues and on platforms.

There’s always been a bit of banter as well as grudging respect between two clubs lightyears apart in so many aspects, but still only separated by one point and two goals over a season. The football family is, in the end, one that brings people together and where if you admit the best team won, it takes the edge off the disappointment.

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

Having reveled in the emotions and thanked those who deserve it, thoughts will quickly turn to what happens next. Plan A for the Championship is surely going to be implemented; players will be released, contracts will be offered, clauses will be triggered, and recruitment targets will be contacted. But first of all, the position of one man needs to be secured.

Alex Neil has sealed himself a place in the glorious history of our club and in the hearts and minds of our fans. We need to ensure that he is given everything he needs to continue the excellent job he has done since February.

No manager or head coach has been such a good fit for our club since Peter Reid. We have seen a constant churn of figures come and go at the Stadium of light over the last dozen years and none, not even Roy Keane or Sam Allardyce, have had this feeling of someone who simply fits with us. A proper football man, with a proper work ethic, and a view of the game that reflects exactly the culture of our club over generations.

Neil has clearly won the full trust of the players - he has now won the universal adoration of the fans. There should be no impediment to him being signed on for the long term - this is the biggest club, the biggest job, the biggest opportunity outside of the Premier League and he is a high quality, highly motivated, and high-level manager.

Whether the board will look again at the structures of the football side of the club is an open question. Kristjaan Speakman has been a lot quieter since the appointment of Neil, which is probably for the best.

His failure to begin the search for a replacement for Lee Johnson before the former head coach was removed, as well as a number of the recruitment and transfer dealings over the past 12 months, will be key points that need to be appraised.

The ownership of the club needs to be resolved as soon as practically possible if plans are to be taken forward to their utmost extent. Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Juan Sartori sat together at Wembley along with Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, and whilst their alliance at the apex of Sunderland AFC has achieved goal number one, the next few years will require intelligent investment by serious and well-resourced people if goals two (consolidation) and three (a further promotion) are to follow.

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

Ideally, for the good of our club, the ownership group should be as small, wealthy, progressive, and as closely aligned in outlook as possible. But exactly how this will manifest will, we must expect, become clearer before August.

For now, we return to work, college or school today with the knowledge that we did absolutely everything we could to play our part as fans in achieving this promotion. Making the most of it, and keeping that momentum going for our whole club and our whole community is our next big collective challenge. But we’ve proven that together, we’re more than capable.

I will leave it there. I am so tired and so happy. We have been through so much. We deserved this. So let’s just chill, recover, and enjoy this summer. Hopefully, we can now look forward to some great signings and some great Championship fixtures next season.


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