As a kid I was very fortunate that I grew up watching possibly the best Sunderland team of the modern era - Peter Reid’s swashbuckling side that ran roughshod over the English First Division before notching two consecutive top seven finishes in the Premier League. That was a proper team, with proper players, that played proper football.
Since then, there’s been the odd bright spark - MicMac’s title-winners, Keano’s Champions, Poyet’s miracle-makers, and Big Sam’s survivors being the most obvious choices - but not since those days of Reidy and Sacko have I felt like Sunderland were actually going places not just now, but in the future... that is, of course, until right now.
I can safely say that this current Sunderland team is the best side I’ve watched in years, and that’s not to do down any of the sides that came before them - I just love the makeup of the squad, the way we’re trying to do things, and the character of the Lads in the starting eleven.
We’ve had fantastic team spirit before, but I don’t think any of those great teams from the past have had the blend of youth and quality running through them like we have now.
Watching a squad predominantly made up of youngsters is seriously exciting.
They play without fear, and are effectively playing for their futures - these aren’t seasoned pros with options, but boys who know this is a tremendous opportunity at an early stage in their careers thus far.
And it shows. The standard of the football this season has been largely immense, and that’s not to give all the credit to the kids - Danny Batth, Patrick Roberts, Luke O’Nien, Corry Evans, Ross Stewart and Alex Pritchard have been immense so far this season.
Pretty much everyone in this Sunderland team has a point to prove.
For someone like Alex Pritchard, this is the second chance he probably thought he’d never get when he was seeing out his contract sat on the bench at Huddersfield.
For Ross Stewart - a man who has constantly had to fight his way up the food chain since the early days of his career - this is his chance to prove himself as a top player.
Roberts, like Pritchard, is a player reborn who wants to fulfil his potential as a Premier League regular - the type of footballer he was cast as when Manchester City spent big bucks on him as a teenager.
For Jewison Bennette - a young man who carries the weight of expectation of a nation on his shoulders - this is his chance to make the people in his homeland proud.
I won’t go on and on, but you get my point - you could go right throughout the squad and with each individual player make a case that this is their chance to prove themselves, but not always for the same reasons.
That’s what makes them special - they’re all hungry.
That, blended with having the right types of people in the door, creates a fantastic environment in which players can thrive without pressure.
There are no egos. Everyone is supportive, and understands this is a team.
We have leaders all over the park - Batth, Gooch, Pritchard, Evans to name a few.
And finally, we have a man in the dugout who not only has the credentials at Championship level, but also understands the immense opportunity he has in promoting young talent.
Tony Mowbray may not be a glamorous man but he’s the right fit for this club at this moment.
He makes me feel so calm when he speaks, so I can only imagine the effect he has on his players, all of whom just want to go out there and showcase their ability.
He believes in the potential of young players, yes, but he likes to play good football. And for modern footballers, that’s all you want - to be at a club that believes in doing things the right way; to be part of a culture that encourages you to try and be creative.
We won’t always get it right, we won’t always win games, and it won’t always be easy, but by god is it exciting.
Our football recently has been a pleasure to watch, and even on the disappointing days I find myself able to work out what the plan was - what we were trying to achieve.
That is key. We don’t always have to be happy with what we see, but when the players are giving it their all, it’s far easier to try and understand what is going on.
Losing to Boro was a blow but I put a lot of that down to losing Stewart right before kick off. We were the better side for much of the game against Norwich until they brought two quality players off the bench to change the game, and even despite going down to ten men at Sheffield United I felt we were the better side, even in defeat.
There’s no shame in losing if everything largely makes sense, and on those occasions, I think that it did.
We continue to build. There’s a hell of a lot of football left to play this season and I won’t be getting carried away, but for the first time in forever I feel no pressure when I go to watch Sunderland play - this side play with freedom and without the weight of expectation.
What a joy that is to behold, and what a fantastic time to be a Lads fan.
I just wish the Preston game would hurry up - it’s going to be a long ten days!