So, the season has ended and Sunderland AFC have not won what would have been an improbable promotion to the Premier League.
That is disappointing, and it hurts that we continue to experience the longest stint outside of the top flight in our history. But, I expect most of us are over it - in fact, I was over the disappointment before the referee blew the final whistle at Kenilworth Road last week.
Any disappointment has been tempered by season 2022/23 being so thoroughly enjoyable. It was a season without pressure or expectation, a rare treat for us.
It was a season where we could relax and watch a team of talented young players give their all. It was a season that taught us how to enjoy football again and I can’t wait for a bit more of that in 2023/24.
The Championship has its faults as a competition.
The dregs of the bloated Premier League skew the top end of the table. Normally the clubs who can retain as much of the parachute money dominate - as, despite being under a transfer embargo, Burnley and Sheffield United demonstrated this season.
It will be no different next season with bigger clubs than them with better squads joining the chase back to the promised land.
The task of achieving promotion next season will be no easier than this.
However, those clubs that fail in their first two seasons back at level two - or who are unable to use the Premier League relegation rebate to sustain a promotion - become even more desperate, as we know only too well from our own experience.
You have to fear for excellent football clubs like West Brom, and less excellent clubs such as Watford. There is a chance that a couple of those clubs whose turn it is to suffer relegation will be in such a position. We will have to wait and see how they cope with the exhaustive demands of the Championship.
That unpredictability helps to alleviate some of the unfairness in finance which is inherent in the EFL - making it very an interesting and highly entertaining division.
All of the clubs in the Championship are hellbent on seeking the ultimate prize, the golden goose - most then incapable of capitalizing on it whenever it lands. I get the feeling that when it is our turn a plan will be in place for it. That plan, I expect is still a work in progress.
So, we missed out on the prize this season, the dubious prize of joining the Premier League franchise which is increasingly becoming populated by franchised clubs, sponsored entities that used to be football clubs who wear the colors and do the bidding of their masters.
There is no doubt that for those “lucky” few clubs the ride will be thrilling. Let’s be honest we all want a bit of it, but it leaves a stench of unfair competition as state-owned Manchester City continue to dominate with five titles in recent years. They are so far ahead of the competition it is untrue.
Others are striving to catch them and their owners will no doubt follow in that ruthless approach to success. States and multi-billionaires don’t fund football clubs for the glory of Burnley away on a Saturday lunchtime – they want more, to satisfy their agendas and egos and more they will seek. How history will judge this period of sporting competition will be interesting for future generations to ponder.
So, at this stage of our club’s rebirth and rebuild is it such a bad thing that we didn’t join the party now? To have everything picked over each day by a contrarian on Talksport, to have every tackle and pass analyzed by Carragher and Neville on a Monday night, this after the smirking presenters on MOTD drain the joy out of each game on a Saturday and Sunday evening.
Am I ready for those unwelcome thoughts and comments on our club?
I am not sure that I am.
Promotion before we were ready would no doubt have provided a financial boost to speed up the club’s recovery by a couple of years, who would sniff at that? Who would argue with a Nottingham Forest fan that this season hasn’t been one to savor? But for the majority of fans you can see the pain, the suffering, the nervous tension, the farce of VAR and the annoyance that every man and his dog is entitled to cast an opinion on a team and a club for which they have no love and little interest. All the while when you are fretting that your club could be the next Derby County or the next Sunderland (version 2017-2021).
Despite our lowly status we have become used to winning lots of football matches over the last six years and the last season and a bit has allowed us to witness a style of football at a good level that we haven’t seen in years, if ever.
I am content with that, but just for now.
Eventually we will have to join the monster, a club of ours has to if it is to survive in this current footballing financing structure. But that can wait, that’s for the future.
In the meantime, they can get on with it as we battle away, rebuilding the structures and the squad at a steady and sustainable rate. When we are ready we can hopefully join in with the franchise and compete with the franchisees in that big league when we are ready.