Not trying to put too much of a downer on proceedings, but most of us have lost friends and relatives in recent years. Some dedicated Sunderland supporters are among them. Even if you didn’t watch a match alongside any of them, you’ll remember the stories they told you about all things red and white.
It occurred to me at the end of the season, I can’t remember the last time I was so hopeful for an upcoming season. Even last summer after ending on the high of the playoffs, we had excitement boiling over but there was still that unknown element... I’m pretty sure we all collectively asked ourselves:
- ‘How will we fare in the Championship?
- Who will we sign in the summer, and will they be any good?
- Oh, how hard will next season be?’
It’s understandable given our free-fall through the Championship last time we were in the same division. We only have to look at Wigan and the record of teams promoted via the play-offs to the Championship to know how difficult that transition can be.
So, by way of a recap, we fell at that second-from-last hurdle last season after a gallant effect from the lads, most of whom are under the age of 22.
We aren’t necessarily being linked with household names heading into the summer transfer market, but we had a new-found confidence in the recruitment team at the club. Our style of play is easy on the eye, the club has shown how they invest time and energy in youth which appeals to many of the new prospects we are approaching.
We’ve always been able to create an electric atmosphere and bring the noise. But one of the best parts of our rebuild is how the mood has changed throughout the club now and not just relating to match days.
Certainly, there is a method behind the madness now, a plan and an ambition. Adopting a modern way of doing things, instigated by a young forward-thinking owner. ‘A custodian’ akin to the club, with football in his blood, respectful of our past, focused on the present building towards the future.
But unlike so many Sunderland chairmen before, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus shouldn’t be misguided by local rivalries that seemingly drove so much of their decision-making.
Alongside a few thousand other supporters, I attended The Sunderland Story at the Empire in May. Anyone with an interest in the area or the club would have struggled not to have a lump in the throat. I don’t want to say what has already been said, but it showed the ambition, skill, and solidarity of those who build the club. Above all though, the thing synonymous with our club since the 1960s in the face of everything has been adversity.
The last few months have galvanized the fan base, including the marking of the 1973 celebrations. These times feel remarkably different, as though all those echoes of yesterday are cheering and beckoning us forward. A reminder of where we belong and what we’re capable of. Over the years many older fans will often refer to some of the illustrious spells through our history being built on a bedrock of youth. It’s almost as though we’ve come full circle, back to what we do best.
As our past disasters prove, nothing is certain… however, I am quietly confident that come kick-off against Ipswich at the Stadium in August our team will be far stronger than the side that ended last term. Most of the fan base will be signing from the same hymn sheet in terms of the clubs’ methods and recruitment. Even most of the early doubters are behind Tony Mowbray, and if a player is good enough, then they’re old enough.
If we take our late-season momentum and style of play into the new season, we will be the envy of the Championship… there may be some in the topflight looking down and keeping a close eye on our progress.
Even Gary Neville has spoken of how ‘I like the idea that one day Sunderland could compete for the Champions League and for the Premier League title again’. Idea or not, it makes you question the glass ceiling for our ambitions - Louis-Dreyfus has a quiet confidence and refreshingly doesn’t give too much away.
Ah, to all those late Sunderland fans, having followed the club through rain, hail, sleet, and snow - if they could see us now…