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Roker Report’s Alternative Christmas Speech 2023

Compliments of the season to you all. As we look forward to what 2024 will bring, we reflect on a year that has had ups, downs and near misses...

Photo by Barrington Coombs/PA Images via Getty Images

Merry Christmas to one and all!

One year ago I said “strap yourself in for whatever 2023 brings.” Well, I hope you did as it was another rip-roaring, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants romp through 12 months of Sunderland football fandom.

We’ve had Amad screamers, no defenders, playoff adventures, dismantled sides with ease, our arses paddled by Alex Neil’s Stoke and much much more.

Overall, really quite enjoyable - thank you Sunderland AFC.

Perhaps the defining moment of the year was Tony Mowbray’s post-match speech, made in the style of a world-weary uncle at a wedding, furious about the union of his niece to some layabout (possible Mag) delinquent and was therefore delivering some home truths about what he really thought of the groom. It did much to reveal what those in power at this club want, and the type of person they want to do it.

That’s no criticism, it’s just a fact; we as fans simply have a front row seat.

As the year has gone by things haven’t so much quietened down as ramped up, unnecessarily so. At Christmas time it’s always the way when you ask people what they’re doing, the response is “oh, just a quiet one.” Well, Sunderland don’t do quiet ones in any way. Sunderland get pissed and knock Auntie Vi’s tree over, causing a right scene in what was an otherwise respectable family gathering.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The year began in a pretty inauspicious manner, with Sunderland doing precisely nothing to suggest a playoff push was imminent; we all seemed to be settling in for a mid-table finish, causing no alarm to either the top or the bottom of the table. For the first time in over a decade we weren’t seemingly fighting for promotion or to avoid relegation and to tell the truth it was a bit disconcerting.

We need not have worried. Sparks were about to fly.

Something post-Hull (and naive Pierre Ekwah challenge) was pulled from our collective backsides, and that certainly cleared the blockage and an Amad-inspired Black Cats romped their way to a top-six finish.

And wasn’t it a swashbuckling ride? Post the Rotherham, Coventry, Stoke triumvirate of misery it seemed our campaign was dead in the water. That’s not to mention the world’s worst offside call versus Sheffield United. However we were determined not to be nearly rans, or to be done over by the officials, and so our merry band of bairns thumbed their noses at some of the division’s best sides. The Dennis Cirkin-inspired win at the Hawthorns in April felt particularly decisive.

All was rosy in the garden of Sunderland, or so it seemed.

But ah, was it ever so-Sunderland to sprinkle the seeds of discontent all over what outwardly appeared to be a happy ship. Messrs Speakman and Dreyfus were caught on footballing Tinder fluttering their eyelashes towards Francesco Farioli, and boy did Mowbray not approve. His face post-Luton looked like he’d rather spend a fortnight’s all inclusive down a Teesside blast furnace.

Millwall v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - The Den Photo by Rhianna Chadwick/PA Images via Getty Images

From that moment on, it felt like a matter of time before the relationship had broken decisively, and Sunderland were searching for their 12th manager (sorry, manager slash head coach) in 10 years.

So here we are, with a man in charge who if he didn’t realise what a dysfunctional madhouse of a football club we are, the Coventry match was the quintessential welcome. In the comedy Blackadder Goes Forth, there is a scene in the final episode in the moments before they go over the top where Rowan Atkinson’s titular character tells Lieutenant George to take his truncheon “don’t forget your stick, George” he said. “Rather, sir” George replied “wouldn’t want to face a machine gun without this.” Mick very much needs that stick right now. Good luck, mate.

And it’s a baptism of fire isn’t it? But let me tell you this - this festive period, we don’t have 12 days of Christmas. For one year only we have an extra day; because on the 13th, we will beat the Mags.

With each Christmas message it is essential to mention the quite incredible and selfless work of Angela and everyone involved with the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen. Many people who did not realise they will have needed to rely on them this time last year will have been through their doors, despite never expecting to have to do so a mere 12 months previously. Take it from me, you never know what’s around the corner, and you never know what support you might need - no matter what your circumstances.

And in that spirit, I’ll leave you with the words of BBC newsreader George Alagiah, written a few days before he died in July:

If you haven’t already told the people you love, that you love them, tell them. If you haven’t already told them how vulnerable you sometimes feel, tell them. If you want to tell them that you would like to be with them until the front hall stairs feel like Everest, tell them. You never know what is coming around the corner. And if, lucky you, there is nothing around the corner, then at least you got your defence in first.

So if you feel lucky, do something for someone who needs some good fortune and give what you can.

Merry Christmas everyone, and a Happy New Year.

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