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

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Forty nine years of heartache have ended ended with one Wembley victory

“Sunderland’s playoff success is a blessing for the club in both the short and long-term,” writes Paddy Hollis.

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

On the 5th of May 1973, Bob Stokoe’s Sunderland pulled off one of the great FA Cup upsets, to defeat the Division One powerhouse that was Leeds United.

It was a great day for our football club, and it ended a thirty-six year wait for a major trophy.

Sunderland fans may not have realised it then, but it would be nearly half a century, and over half a dozen disappointing trips to London before we would witness another victory at the home of football.

The last time we won at Wembley with fans in attendance, Richard Nixon was the U.S President, the Vietnam War was still raging, and Pink Floyd had recently released ‘Dark Side of The Moon’, which remains one of the highest selling albums ever.

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

On Saturday, on a gloriously sunny day under the famous arch, our dreaded hoodoo came to an end.

The fans had travelled from all corners of the UK, Europe and further afield for this one.

My journey started at 7:00am at a small train station in Cardiff. On my way to the central station, the ticket inspector asked if my red and white scarf was a Wrexham scarf, but of course, the Welsh side would not be making their way to Wembley until the following day.

The first can of the day was opened near Newport, and by the time we reached Bristol, I was already beginning to spot other Sunderland shirts.

Even at 9:15am, Paddington Station was dotted with Sunderland colours, proving that our fans really had travelled from far and wide.

From there, it was a short journey on the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus, where we gathered at the Argyll Arms pub.

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

As the morning unfolded, it was interesting to watch as people exited the underground station, to be greeted by a wall of red and white. The sight was met with a mixture of smiles and puzzled looks from tourists and football fans alike.

Shortly afterwards, we headed further towards Wembley with a stop at Baker Street for a couple of pints. Unsurprisingly, the place was packed to the rafters and it felt as though 98% of those inside were following the Lads.

The journey to the stadium itself was electric. At times, it felt as though the Tube could break down, but the momentum from all of the Mackems onboard would have ensured that we still made it to our destination.

The walk up Wembley Way is one of the most iconic treks in world football, and Saturday was no exception.

The pre-match atmosphere, both in the seating area and on the concourse, made me feel as though this was finally our time to shine.

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

When Elliot Embleton fired us into the lead, that belief started to feel like a reality. The noise that erupted from the red and white side of the stadium was out of this world, and it felt as though it was actually going to be our day.

Admittedly, there were moments of tension, but every time Wycombe managed to get the ball into the box, they were met with a very calm and composed Anthony Patterson.

The one major lapse from our defence was dealt with by Patterson, who hurtled off his line to smother the ball before Sam Vokes even realised he was through on goal.

As the game wore on, it felt like we needed that second goal, and when it arrived, it was scored by a player who has been our main man all season. With ten minutes left, Ross Stewart wrong-footed David Stockdale and found the bottom corner, to spark more pandemonium in the Sunderland end.

The goal gave us a much-needed cushion heading into the final ten minutes, and meant that by the end of injury time, we would avoid any last minute tension.

When the final whistle blew, the sense of relief was incredible. Sunderland had held their nerve and sealed a return to the Championship in the calm and professional style which has become our trademark under Alex Neil.

So, that’s it. Our four year slog in League One is over. Four years of teams pretending to create rivalries with us, four years of fans tagging Newcastle in posts, and four years of teams coming to the Stadium of Light, trying to frustrate us, and wasting time.

To put it mildly, it has been a rough few years for everyone connected with the club, but this win is something that each and every one of us deserves.

The fans and the players represented the club and the city superbly on Saturday. We sang loudly and proudly, and backed the players from start to finish. With Neil at the helm, it finally feels as though things are moving in the right direction, after so much turbulence since 2018.

For the first time in fifteen years, we’ve emerged from a division at the right end of the table. It has been a season that, even as late as February, looked as though it would go off the rails, but has finished as one of the most memorable in recent years.

We’ve got an important summer of building ahead of us, to make sure we can re-establish ourselves as a second tier club.

In the meantime, however, we can be proud at what we have achieved this season. Nearly 50,000 fans at the national stadium was a sight to behold, and after many years of dross, this one was for us.

Soak it up, lads and lasses, because this weekend will live long in the memory.

My message to the club is this:

Please don’t end up in League f****** One ever, ever again.

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