It is often said of many towns and cities up and down the land that when the local football team is doing well, this is reflected in the surrounding area. This resonates with fewer teams than Sunderland.
Fortunes on the pitch have a damning and often lasting impact with the general feeling in and around the city. When Sunderland AFC loses, the mood of the city and the many surrounding towns and villages which are home to Sunderland fans is reflective.
When we are winning on a regular basis, something which has not been the case for a very long time, the mood is generally much better.
This is what happens when a football club is the beating heart of a region.
During our recent woeful years of relegations and then stagnation in the third tier, many people in the surrounding area had become numb to the impact of a defeat. In our last Championship season, Sunderland won just seven of 46 matches. Runs like this breed a sense of failure, and it is one which we got accustomed to.
Sunderland losing has been credited towards ruining many a weekend for our fans, and although football isn’t everything - it can leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
The city itself is one which could be argued was left behind for many years. A troubled club and a city with little forward momentum combine to make a dreadful sense of ‘how can things get better?’
Well, in 2023, we are seeing the green shoots of a recovery long overdue.
The £26 million redevelopment of Sunderland’s central train station is a good place to start. Work has started on what looks to be a brilliant addition to the city - and one which it deserves. For too long people have used and walked past the rundown shell of a station.
The new design looks worthy of a city on the up.
Sticking with city redevelopments, and we move inland along the River Wear. The exciting news of a near £500 million film studio coming to the area near to the Northern Spire Bridge. Created partially by local production company Fulwell73, the project - if given the go-ahead - is predicted to create 8,000 jobs. The creation of this number of jobs would be the biggest for the area since Nissan around 30 years ago.
The project, if given the required government funding, would be known as the Crown Works Studios and would have a lasting impact on the region as a whole. Having this kind of opportunity on our doorstep is one that the city both needs and deserves.
The potential of this project both locally and internationally is something that the city of Sunderland and the wider region has been deserving of for some time. This is genuine ‘putting Sunderland on the map’ territory.
The match day experience is one which can and probably always will need a boost. Within the master plan for Sunderland, we have this.
A new pedestrian walkway which takes out the need to squeeze over the Wear Bridge on the way back into the city centre after full time.
Instead, a newly renovated Sheepfolds will see fans pass through on their way to the SoL. The ground, including the incredible facilities at the Beacon of Light, will be connected in a more direct and pedestrian-friendly way.
Throw in the new leisure hub planned for the regenerated Grade II Stables and you’ve got the makings of a huge portion of the city being given a major facelift.
In years gone by it was shipbuilding and coal mining that put Sunderland on the map. In the 21st century, it is modern development and a major contribution to the silver screen which potentially does so. All the while, the club which runs through the veins of the city and much of the surrounding region plays on - except these days it is looking up rather than down.
Sunderland is a city that has football etched into its identity. I’ve lived, worked in, and visited many places over the years and a common response from many people to finding out I’m from Sunderland is “are you a Sunderland fan?”
Me saying yes tends to be a trigger for jokes slung in my direction, but it goes to show that the club - regardless of form - is what people think of when they hear Sunderland. This is all well and good, but the city deserves to be recognised positively as its own entity. The injection of ambition and investment which these projects symbolise that this may be something we can say will happen this decade.
Making sure these projects are given the green light and actually happen are vital, and it is down to those in authority to see it through until the end. The people of the city and the region deserve what has been proposed to them.
Ambition is healthy and key to progress, and Sunderland’s steady on-field revival is fuel to this particular sense of progress. Imagine all of these fantastic new additions to the city being complimented by a stable Premier League club in the years to come - there’s plenty of work to go, of course, but the sky’s the limit for Wearside and the North East of England.