Nobody saw today’s news coming - we were all building up to what was meant to be a celebration of football. As you’ll be aware, the Lads and the Lasses playing (almost) back-to-back in a Championship double-header tomorrow afternoon. The Spirit of 37 flags will be out for both games, and the sun will be shining on Wearside.
I’m not going to be a Pollyanna - it hurts like hell to be left in the lurch by an almost universally liked and admired Head Coach just when it looked like the club was really on the up. But we Sunderland fans have been through managerial turmoil every year for what seems like forever, we will get through this one too.
What we won’t forget is that the Lads have done nothing to deserve this upheaval. We supporters should be in a defiant mood. They’re still as good as they were yesterday. They’re still largely the same great bunch of footballers who got us out of League One with some fantastic additions added over the summer.
I’m absolutely sure that come midday the SoL will be packed, the fans will be in full voice - and that as a collective we will help the Lads who will undoubtedly be feeling shocked and confused at what’s transpired.
The Lasses - Mel Reay and her squad - also don’t deserve to have their moment in the sunshine overshadowed by the clouds of anger and disbelieve swirling around the men’s side. Mel Reay’s programme notes for tomorrow show she’s a little nervous about the reaction of the fans:
We are looking forward to the game as it’s always a special occasion to play here at the SoL. This game has that little bit extra with it following the Men’s game. We aren’t sure what the atmosphere will be like as it’s never been done before, in terms of how many will stay behind.
We need to concentrate on what is a big league game for us and ensure we get that right, but it would be amazing for a big turnout and as many of you as possible to support the Lasses.
I hope that we can show her that, whatever is happening with the Lads, the fanbase appreciates the amazing effort and loyalty that she and her squad have shown to our club over the years.
We know that Sunderland are still the biggest draw in the Football League. We top the attendance charts in every round of EFL fixtures played at the Stadium of Light, and tomorrow Sunderland supporters can help the Lasses smash the existing women’s tier two attendance record of 5,752 held currently by Bristol City.
Could we match or even surpass the 22,134 who went to St James’ Park to see Newcastle play Alnwick in the northern regional division of the National League in April? We’ll have to wait and see and there’s no guarantee, but what a statement it would make if we do.
The boost that achieving the FA Women’s Championship attendance record will bring to Mel Reay’s side is immeasurable. It will help the players believe that they really are part of the biggest, most successful, perhaps even the most important women’s club outside the WSL.
Clearly not everyone sees it, but Sunderland AFC is the true sleeping giant outside the upper echelons of the English game, men’s and women’s - and this occasion is an opportunity to cement this status, and to demonstrate the progress we’ve made across the board over the last year or so.
It hardly needs repeating that the women deserve all the support we can give them as a fanbase. Almost the whole squad are local lasses who’ve come through the ranks at our club – women who are working or in education and give every spare moment to the game they love.
The passion and pride they show, and the connection with the supporters who follow them, harks back to the days at Roker Park. It’s not the money that motivates them, it’s the fans.
People have questioned the time gap between the two games – this is inescapable; there are mandatory safety inspections that have to be completed after an EFL fixture as well as sponsors insignia that has to be included at the ground for the Barclay’s Women’s Championship.
There should only be around half an hour between the Lads warming down and the Lasses warming up, and we should expect that the club will fill this time with some form of entertainment.
The concourse catering will be open and even if you want to pop over to the Colliery Tavern, the Wheatsheaf or the Vaux Brewery Taproom for your customary post-match pint, you’ll still be able to go back into the ground watch the Lasses game. There’s certainly a lot to discuss with your friends and family.
There have been concerns around the impact of playing two games in a day on the pitch at the Stadium of Light. This is something that the club will have accounted for in the timing of the event; it’s still summer, the grass is not suffering from lack of daylight, and those fancy lights are in place too to help with any regrowth.
If the grounds staff can get to work quickly after the Lads game, the Lasses should have a perfect surface on which to play.
Both Birmingham and Sheffield United play their men’s and women’s Championship fixtures at their main stadium, and the lack of Papa John’s Trophy games and the Lads’ early exit from the League Cup mean that our hallowed turf will have fewer minutes played on it this year overall.
If you can’t make the Lads match but are able to attend later in the afternoon, tickets are available for the Lasses game at the very reasonable price of £7 for adults, £3.50 for concessions and £1 for under 16s. Kick off is 4pm.
If you can’t make it in person, you can listen in to BBC Newcastle’s live commentary of the Lasses game with Colin White and our own Charlotte Patterson from 3.30 on the BBC Sounds app. Ha’way the Lads and Lasses.
Getting the prep ready for Saturday ✍ pic.twitter.com/ZRGpNZxrhr— Charlotte Patterson (@kirbyhazard) August 25, 2022