We have been here before. History repeats itself later today when at 12:30 this afternoon, Sunderland host Norwich City on what is the 27th day in August.
When that last happened back in 1983 it was the opening day of the season and the hosts were looking to build on their previous campaign, which had brought their highest finish since 1967-68.
With boss Alan Durban cultivating a youthful squad full of potential, ending up 16th in Division One and confirming survival before the final day represented good progress and whilst a series of home draws – their total of 10 being the most in the division – had hindered things slightly, it was obvious that things were heading in the right direction.
The match-day mood was boosted further by the return of Chris Turner, who had been out of action having fractured his skull against the same opposition in April, and there was another popular return on show – after two seasons of the infamous ‘candy stripe’ effort from kit manufacturers Le Coq Sportif, the team took to the Roker Park pitch resplendent in their new Nike strips.
Complete with more traditional red and white stripes and classic black shorts, this was the first time the sportwear giants had served a European club, and whilst the shirt still had a predominantly white base it was well received by the majority.
Also making their competitive bow on this day were the highly regarded pair of Paul Bracewell and Paul Atkinson, both of whom had earned England caps at youth level but were coming into the side with very different levels of first team experience; Bracewell, who had been Durban’s only summer signing, had made over 100 appearances before moving from Stoke City whereas Atkinson was only just starting his senior career having come through the ranks on his native Wearside.
The duo would have different levels of involvement during the match too, which for large parts was a battle of attrition as both sides attempted to wrestle control through the middle.
It meant that Atkinson was often left isolated out on the wing, and whilst he did get one good sight of goal it was his new teammate that had the greater involvement.
Often in the thick of things, it soon became clear that ‘Brace’ was to become an influential figure and there was little surprise come the end of the season when he was named Sunderland’s Player of the Year.
With little in the way of goalmouth action the main talking point in the first half was the fact that five players were cautioned, one of whom was Gordon Chisholm.
The Scot had been an injury doubt before kick-off but was still able to make the starting XI and take full part in the ensuing battle, and it was only after the break that any real football was seen.
Things looked like picking up when Dave Bennett crossed the ball in for future SAFC man Keith Bertschin to head home, but whilst the Lads responded quickly the excitement proved only fleeting.
The leveller came courtesy of Colin West, who latched onto a Turner punt upfield and blasted the ball past Chris Woods – another player that would later sign for Sunderland.
Amidst the damp conditions however, things soon descended back into a scrap and despite coming from behind to rescue a point this was a below-par performance on reflection – particularly when you consider how Roker had witnessed the same opposition being soundly beaten ten months earlier.
Progress was still being made in the main though, and after fears of there being too many home draws again the next two fixtures on Wearside brought maximum returns.
The developments were not being made fast enough for some though, and whilst the team went on to achieve another improved finish, this one better than anything since 1955-56, Durban was not there to see it for himself.
Despite providing the foundations for so much more, the Welshman was the victim of an infamous sacking towards the end of 1983-84 and a little over a year later the club were relegated alongside today’s opponents.
After several ups and downs since then, both clubs now find themselves back in the second tier, and back playing on this date, but the question today is whether it will end honours even just like it 39 years before?
Saturday 27 August 1983
Canon League Division One
Sunderland 1 (West 61)
Norwich City 1 (Bertschin 56)
Sunderland: Turner; Venison, Atkins, Chisholm, Munro; Proctor, Bracewell, Rowell, Atkinson; West, Pickering. Unused: Cooke
Roker Park, attendance 17,057