Sunderland were finally promoted to League One last Saturday, thanks to the 2-0 win over Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley. In the aftermath of that victory, Ron-Thorben Hoffmann wrote his latest column for Kicker, in which he discusses his experience of the big day.
As well as the Play-Off victory, Hoffmann uses his column to say goodbye to Sunderland after his loan deal expired without the purchase option being triggered, and says that he will be forever a fan of this ‘crazy’ club, also talking about what’s next for him, and what he will take with him from his time on Wearside.
It’s done! After many ups and some downs in a season typical of this “crazy” club, the AFC have finally achieved promotion after three years in the third division. And the atmosphere was gigantic: the legendary Wembley Stadium is jam-packed and almost entirely in red and white. The fans sing through 94 minutes at a deafening volume, “Sunderland til I die...” is truly the melody of the metropolis on this Saturday in May.
The day in the hotel started for me of course with a little melancholy. In the morning I have to think of the famous sentence by German goalkeeper legend Hans Tilkowski: “We lost 2-2 today.” He said that after the lost final of the 1966 World Cup in England. And of course, the ball wasn’t in it and yet Germany lost 2-4.
Did I also lose after I had to give up my regular place as number one to a colleague, despite really good performances and values in 23 games because of the whole Corona story? No.
It is always important to reflect, but also not to lose sight of the bigger picture. As a team, we achieved our goal for the season under really difficult circumstances. The fans are (finally) happy, and I made an important contribution to that with almost half of the points we scored. And personally I’ve gained quite a lot this year at the north-east tip of England: new friends, a new understanding of the game and a completely different, fascinating mentality and (fan) culture. I’m 100 percent sure that these important experiences have helped me as a person and as a top athlete and will help me further on in professional football.
I’m proud to have been part of this crazy club and to have played my part in finally continuing the Netflix series on an even more positive note.
And maybe I learned the most from the fans of the AFC. They never stopped believing in their club, even when things were going really badly. They love football, their city and their club. It is this passion that has fascinated me about football since I was a child. I would like to thank the fans of the AFC from the bottom of my heart for that!
Before the game, I received a WhatsApp from a friend’s son, whom I had invited to the game with his father. Freddy wrote: “Beside me is Bellingham! That’s so awesome. Thanks for letting us be here.” And in those few words is the same love for the game. Football is indeed global and connects people in a very emotional way. Being part of this fascination is great.
From now on, I will be one of the many fans who will follow the AFC and follow their journey, which will hopefully lead back to the Premier League soon. The fans deserve it.
What’s next for me? ”Let’s see,” Franz Beckenbauer would say. And to close the loop: like Günter Netzer did in the legendary first victory of a German national team in Wembley, I will come out of the depths of the room and attack anew elsewhere. My goal is to find a real football home. That can be good for an ambitious second division team, where you rely on young players with foresight and patience and want to build something in the long term. Stay tuned, I’ll keep you posted!
Finally, five things that I would like to bring with me from England to Germany:
1. The confidence, composure and can-do mentality of the people, especially in the north
2. Humour and the ability to laugh at yourself
3. Everyday digital life, which makes many things so much easier
4. The equanimity to talk about the weather but complain little
5. The food. Haha!