Supporting Sunderland AFC has often been a rollercoaster, and my near twenty years of following the club have mainly been pretty bad, as years of relegations and mismanagement left us a husk of our former selves.
It’s been a slow and steady recovery but on the day Stewart Donald officially sold up and departed after outstaying his welcome by many years, I went along to watch ‘The Sunderland Story’ at the Sunderland Empire.
The matinee that I watched was the penultimate performance and one which, given its rave reviews, I was really looking forward to. For two and a bit hours, I was absorbed in a Mackem love fest- and I wouldn’t have wanted to have been anywhere else.
Being in the audience and feeling like I truly belonged, the show paid tribute to the biggest moments of our history.
From the outset, the details of just why our football club came into existence were portrayed in the performance. The workers of the city and the wider community (County Durham, in particular) were in need of sporting action to relax with on their day of leisure, and this space was occupied in 1879 by Sunderland and District Football Club.
Shipyard workers, coal miners and teachers got their heads together and recognised that the city needed to be put on the footballing map. Over one hundred and fifty years later, the tapestry of Sunderland AFC and the city itself is a long and rich one.
The history of our club has rarely been dull, with success in the 1920s and 1930s replaced by relegation worries and subsequently bouncing around the top two divisions.
The story is played out using the fans’ experience of the big games, from the league and cup double-chasing side of the early 1910s right through to the 1973 FA Cup win and our farewell to Roker Park in 1996/1997.
The performance made me feel an overwhelming sense of pride in the club, the city and the region.
Emotions ran high throughout, and they reached a peak when former players who’ve sadly passed away were shown on the screen as ‘Shipyards’ was played. A real lump appeared in my throat when little Bradley Lowery was featured.
For generations, parents and guardians have taken along their children to the match. My dad took me to my first game in 2003 and we’ve not looked back since then.
The performance captured what it meant to me to attend those matches with him, as well as reminding me of the highs and lows we’ve experienced together.
The Sunderland Empire has been hosting great shows for well over a century, but I daresay that few have celebrated the city as much as ‘The Sunderland Story’ does.
It was the perfect setting for a show which encapsulates the triumph and tragedy that comes with being connected to both the club and the city itself.
It gives you reasons to fall in love with a club which means so much to the city and wider community all over again, because it’s the beating heart for the people of Sunderland and many across County Durham.
Following a season of positive progress on the pitch, this show couldn’t have been better timed to remind us all just how special Sunderland AFC can be, and also what it can achieve if the right people are at the helm.