During recent seasons, we have grown used to normal match day routines being affected by outside factors, and whilst it is far from ideal, that is just the way it is. After all, the world seems to be in a very strange place right now.
From a selfish point of view, however, the late cancellation of the Millwall fixture means another extended absence from the Stadium of Light, and that is very hard to take.
I hope that doesn’t come across as crass, and I certainly don’t mean to be disrespectful at a tumultuous and surreal period in UK history, but going to games provides a lot of benefits to members of the community and on a personal level, missing out is very tough.
The current break is compounded by the fact that I was unable to attend the Rotherham United game, and this got me thinking about previous instances where the action went ahead but I wasn’t in attendance and really felt as if I was missing out.
In the Stadium of Light era, I have been very fortunate to be able to get to most games – a quick calculation tells me that I am in still in single figures for missed matches- but over the years, I do seem to have forged a nasty habit of picking the worst possible time to be absent.
Even forgoing the Rotherham win was a bit of a kicker.
It might not be viewed as an all-time classic in years to come, but it was a big night, during which Tony Mowbray took the reins for the first time and four new players were introduced to the crowd. I cannot recall that happening very often over the years, and from the footage I saw, not only was it a very good performance but also a brilliant atmosphere.
Obviously, I have heard all about the glory days from before I was born.
If I had a time machine, I daresay I’d be heading straight for the 1973 FA Cup win over Manchester City, and a few other games for that matter, but it is the occasions that I could have conceivably been at that really stick in the craw – times where I was alive and well but couldn't attend, for one reason or another.
I regret having to miss any match, and even when Sunderland lose I feel a weird sense of guilt about it, but it is a fact of life that it will happen to most supporters at some point and there are bound to be games that stand out more.
With that in mind, here are just a few that come to mind straightaway, but I am sure you will have your own list!
Sunderland versus Chelsea, 1992.
This is the big one, the game every fan my age talks about, and thirty years later, I still regret not being there.
Had Sunderland lost their FA Cup quarter-final replay, I’d perhaps not give it a second thought now, but the match regularly crops up in conversation to this day and it feels like one of the last truly great nights at Roker Park.
I was a young kid back then, so I didn’t call the shots over which games I went to, and whilst the cup run under Malcolm Crosby will always evoke such strong memories, I must admit that this match, and the result against Liverpool in the final, do leave me with a gnawing sense of ‘what if?’.
Sunderland versus Manchester United, 1999.
By now I was working, mainly so I could afford my season ticket, but a shift I couldn’t get out of meant that ironically, I couldn’t make it to this match.
A packed house, minus me, witnessed Sunderland going toe-to-toe with the best in the land in a top of the table clash, and and it turned out to be a belting evening. This was the first fixture I ever missed at the Stadium of Light, the move to the new stadium having brought about a renaissance that every fan wanted to be part of.
Sunderland versus Newcastle United, 2015
If Chelsea 1992 and then the 1999 win against the same club that I did attend in person are two of the most fondly and regularly recalled days in Sunderland’s modern history, any instances of us beating the Mags will be right up there, too.
I’d known for a while that I wouldn’t be going to the derby and that I wouldn’t even be able to watch it on the TV, but when I got a text from my best mate at half time that simply said ‘What. A. Goal’, it was a unique sensation of ecstasy and longing that I knew I wouldn’t forget for the rest of my life.
It goes without saying that I was desperate for us to get the victory, but couldn’t Jermain Defoe have just scored a nondescript tap-in and saved the iconic stuff for next time?
Sunderland versus Crystal Palace, 2016
This might seem like an odd one, because a 2-2 draw in which the Lads didn’t really reach their best probably doesn’t register with most people these days, but for me it was a sore one.
Normally, when I cannot be at the Stadium of Light, I am away from the area or or even abroad, and can therefore treat it a bit like an away match or even pretend it is not happening until I am able to catch up later.
There was no chance this time, however, when I was forced to stay at home, and seeing people walking past my window on the way to the ground gave me an unpleasant sensation of restlessness and highlighted how I was having to go without my own matchday routine.
I could even hear the cheers when Fabio Borini scored a late cracker to pull us level, and although I was pleased the Lads had picked up a point, being there in person would have been a big boost at what was a difficult time in my private life.
Sunderland versus Coventry City, 2019
A horror show at the back that severely damaged our promotion hopes is not something I particularly yearn for, and this 5-4 defeat was not a game that people look back on favourably, but it was such an anomaly that I almost felt I needed to be there to be fully believe it actually happened.
I rarely miss football now, and when I do it is never through my own choice – if I remember correctly, the only time between Coventry and Rotherham was during the Covid restrictions, and that was a testing time, to say the least.
You sit through the bad times hoping you’ve ‘earned’ the right to be there for the good times, so when you don’t go and something amazing happens, it feels even more frustrating.
Even a dull fixture can mean something, though, and can provide important interaction or relief from the stresses of the world. Missing that, no matter what the reason, can be terrible, so why not unburden yourselves and get in touch to tell us about the times you wish you’d been in the stands to follow the Lads?