The famous line from the Carlsberg adverts springs to mind as I reflect back on what was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday down in Bristol last weekend. If the Danish beer company did in fact do away days then they certainly would have done well to surpass last weekend.
Saturday had everything that is truly good in an away day; everything that one would want from one. It offered the opportunity to meet up with friends, have a few drinks and bask in the southern sunshine - it was rare as a Danny Graham Sunderland goal.
We all left happy after picking up three points!
Don’t get me wrong, I do sometimes wonder if I am wired completely differently or if my mother dropped me at birth, especially when I am waking up at 2am to catch a flight over to the UK for an away day.
It doesn’t help when you have to wriggle yourself through Dublin Airport when passengers attempt to bring through 500ml of perfume through security, or act so shocked when they discover that you can’t actually bring a pen knife onto the plane!
Once we get through that particular obstacle, the Irish supporters club tends to split into its little groups - the ones who like pints at 4am... and the ones who would rather have a coffee. I tend to find myself in the latter group as I usually need something to eat first. Maybe, at 27, I am just getting old...
Once we arrived in Bristol, we found ourselves in a taxi with a fella who sounded like Ian Holloway. His chat was poor and possibly a little odd, and he certainly wasn’t as funny as ‘Olly. As is tradition, we asked that he took us to the nearest Wetherspoons for a breakfast to line the stomach, and so the pre-match pints could commence.
Wetherspoons pubs are funny places. This one was no different - we had an array of characters and personalities present. There was the gambling man who sat with four or five betting slips, studying and analysing where his next winner would appear from; we had the lads on stags dos who were desperate to sink as many pints as possible before the rest of their motley crew arrived; and, there were the locals eying everyone up as soon as they walked in the door.
Oh, and the football fans.
As we walked in, we discovered we were not the only group of football fans starting early. The Bristol Rovers fans were there preparing for their game against Burton and, to their credit, they were great fun. Many of them approached our table and made their feelings clear about their rivals in the city and demanded we ensured they were well beaten.
I have to tip my imaginary hat to the people of Bristol, who were extremely friendly and welcoming wherever we went - they thoroughly enjoyed the colour and atmosphere that the Sunderland fans brought to the occasion.
Anywhere is nice when the weather is good, but Bristol particularly impressed me. It’s waterfront with an array of pubs and restaurants is ideal and we perched up here pre-match sipping in the sun as we watched the Sunderland squad get their pre-match walk in. Shoutout to Carl Winchester for saying hello. A lovely fella.
The beers were delicious. Probably too nice and, as my fellow Roker Reporters Paddy Hollis and Luke ‘Bomber’ Davis joined us, we didn’t notice the time fly by. Our eyes were glued to the possible shock that was unfolding at Craven Cottage. Before we knew it, it was 2pm, and Ashton Gate isn’t exactly central.
We got on our way, not without a takeaway pint to keep us entertained en route to the stadium.
As we arrived at the ground, the sense of an occasion was evident. Bristol fans were out in their droves and as always, so were the Sunderland fans. Chants of ‘Red and White Army’ grew more and more lucid as we got closer.
When news of Ellis Simms starting the game came through there was a sense of intrigue and fascination about what the new striker could offer. It didn’t take long into the first half to see when his mobility, physicality and directedness was topped by a quality finish outside the box in the first ten minutes.
The Bristol equaliser did little to dampen the fanatical support from our lot - I’m almost certain that every club says this about their own fans but it never ceases to amaze me how incredible our support is no matter where we find ourselves. The chant ‘Sunderland take over, everywhere we go’ is probably the most accurate chant that our fans sing!
For the first half itself, we were poor. I’d have taken a point at half time.
As the second half began, we looked good.
We were comfortable and there was certainly a better tempo to our play.
The second Bristol goal was a sucker punch - the Sunderland of old would have folded, but not under the stewardship of our steely Scottish maestro.
A Jack Clarke-inspired Sunderland hit back through a beautiful ball by Alex Pritchard for Ellis Simms, followed by Ross Stewart's wonderful header to give us the win.
Fans embraced each other all over the stand - it’s the only time that it is acceptable to hug grown men you don’t know without the risk of getting a punch in the face!
The full time whistle brought joy, but also gave us an opportunity to catch our breaths. The game itself was tantalising and breathtaking - it’s fun being in the Championship, especially now that we appear to be decent at football again.
After a quick chinwag with my mate Bomber for the podcast, the lads rejoiced in sunny central Bristol at the Waterfront reflecting on a good afternoon’s work. There was a real sense of satisfaction about the day.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately) we couldn’t stay long as we had to catch our flight back to Dublin, and it brought an end to what was an away day to remember.
These are the days that make it all worthwhile.
Roll on Sheffield United.