Hi, my name is Charlotte Patterson… and I owe an apology to Sunderland Women AFC.
I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. Like many of us in the summer, I was sceptical and nervous about how the lasses would perform this season. Key players gone. Two relegation places open. No fulltime model. A difficult end to the 22/23 season campaign. I was incredibly worried and pessimistic about our chances.
But I have never been so happy to be proven wrong and to eat humble pie.
This Sunderland Women squad are doing something special. Something unprecedented, incredible and fantastic to witness. The squad cohesion, togetherness and joy is infectious to see and the feel good factor is radiating across fans alike who are spectating a glorious Sunderland team. One to be absolutely proud of.
It’s never ever been easy to be a Sunderland fan. Be it men's or women’s. I feel like I’ve always missed the best part of an era.
Born in 1995, I was too young to remember the Peter Reid epoch in the late 90’s/early 00’s. Although my dad taught me well enough, that I one day shocked an old lady on a bus when I was two years-old by singing ‘‘Cheer up Peter Reid’’. Whilst I was also too oblivious and ill-informed to realise that I had a brilliant women's football team right on my doorstep playing in the then named FA Women’s National Premier League and later Women’s Super League.
Suffice to say I'm a glutton for punishment and the last five years in particular have not been fun. Sometimes I wonder why I have a heart condition… and then I remember who it is I support and it all makes sense.
But don’t worry, this isn’t all doom and gloom. No. Quite the opposite actually. As for the first time in a long time I enjoy waxing lyrical about Sunderland and a large reason for that is due to the phenomenal and prodigious work by Mel Reay and her team.
Despite losing key players to promotion rivals, clubs with full time models and professional contracts and of course financial incentives, the astute and shrewd business done by the team has been nothing short of exceptional. The players we brought in were not your typical ‘big name’ signings that you come to expect with modern football. Rather they were underrated and raw talents just waiting to showcase their plethora of abilities and skills to someone who would give them the stage to develop and be nurtured in a conducive environment.
Categorically I can say that every single signing made by Sunderland in the summer has had a huge impact on the team in a variety of way and right across the pitch. Not only have they been instrumental in evolving a play style of fast, electric and attractive attacking football, but they have also seemingly brought the best out of players who were here last season and were perhaps short on confidence after how things finished.
Each and every player has ameliorated themselves. There is a hunger and belief in this squad that they can achieve something exceptional. They have bought into a system and doing their due diligence to illustrate that out on the pitch.
I’m being serious when I say this, but when I have watched Sunderland women this season, there have been passages of play which would leave you to believe you were in fact at the Camp Nou and not at Eppleton... if you just overlook the grey skies, cold weather and scaffolding. It might not quite be Barcelona, but the lasses are bringing the heat, flair and finesse onto the pitch with some lovely tiki taka football, flicks, chips, and automobiles.
Looking at the rest of the league and seeing so many other clubs go fully professional was bittersweet, but Sunderland are proving patience is a virtue and making smart decisions. Slowly but surely, more of our players are signing professional contracts as we look to develop within our hybrid model. Our Sunderland Women U23’s are churning up some unbelievable talents. Talents that are already knocking at the door of the senior team, as they continue to beat teams week on week and extend their unbeaten run to 25 games. Just below that we have the Sunderland Regional Talent Centre producing and honing some of the brightness youth prospects, the likes of Grace Ede and Katy Watson paving the way and showing that there is a clear pathway from the academy to the senior squad.
No player in this squad has declined from last season. Just when you think they’ve hit their peak or their ceiling, they show you another level to their game. We are no longer the plucky underdogs who play defensive and cautious football whilst trying to hold onto a one goal cushion. Sunderland are being seen as a real threat now and a team which opponents don’t want to play against.
Mary McAteer is a truly delightful winger to watch, Amy Goddard I would trust to save my life as she wins every ball and tackle at centre-back, Jenna Dear and Natasha Fenton commandeer the midfield with the authority and intelligence of a drill Sargent, Claudia Moan is just bloody good isn’t she, Liz Ejupi runs her socks off every game to assist in our build up and reads the game tremendously, Brianna Westrup has been our commander and chief, leading this team into battle every match and firing them up when the time is needed. This list of players and their talents and capabilities is non-exhaustive and I wish I could go into meticulous detail about each of them. I mean… I probably will.
But, how long is it until we truly start to believe? How long is it until we can mention Sunderland Women and the P word in the same sentence?
We are very close to the half way mark of the season and this team is still unbeaten in nine games in the league and ten games in all competitions. The lasses have only conceded four goals and maintained five clean sheets so far in this campaign. And whilst we’ve only scored twelve whilst teams around us have the 16, 17 and 28 mark, we are smart enough and sure enough in our own abilities to know when to press, when to attack and when to see the game out. Is that not the markings of a potential contender?
Listen, I’m not about to say the P word myself just yet. I’ve been a Sunderland fan long enough to know not to get your hopes up, but regardless of whether we do or don’t. This a season to be proud of, a team to be proud or a management team to be proud of. And pssstt... guess what? We’re only nine games in, but you can’t tell me that I’m wrong regarding the above statement, right?
Anyway, if you need me I’ll be eating crow and continuing to support these lasses. Anyone else wish to join me? I’ll see you at Eppleton for our next home game.