It’s that time of the year again - a new season to prepare for, and for me a trip to the opticians.
No, the new away kit has not dazzled me beyond help, but the numbers on the backs of the home shirts and those on the likes of teams such as QPR and Sheffield Wednesday have forced me to take spectacle action, just in time for kick off against Real Mallorca.
Not only will that match be a dry run for the digital tickets but a test for my new varifocals. Fingers crossed. Like the tickets it will either be a total meltdown or a stuttering shuffle into a new world.
I’m awaiting delivery of this season’s matchbook. I have to admit to some concern... it’s coming from Germany. I hope. It was ordered at the end of May but there is no sign of it. I’ve sent an email. In English. They probably won’t understand it and the nearer the start of the season gets I’m having to make a decision as to whether to buy another, but the German copy will be embossed with my name and ‘SAFC 2023-24’. Decisions, decisions.
For Benno and I it’s our twentieth year covering Sunderland, our twenty first season and we should reach the landmark of a thousand Sunderland matches next May.
Obviously, I am not in the US of A. Changing times as neither are any of my local newspaper colleagues. A sign of the changing media landscape.
I was though at South Shields and it was great to feel a good vibe among fans of both teams, and the added bonus of seven goals and a winner from Chris Rigg, who has committed his immediate future to Sunderland.
That is a big positive this summer - a reflection the club is moving in the right direction with a clear pathway for a talented sixteen-year-old, and hopefully the message will be reflected with some of the other youngsters coming through currently at the under fifteen level and below. It was good to see so many of the young players in the squad at Shields and subsequently, Gateshead, and with the rule change this season that allows nine substitutes on the bench it only bodes well for greater exposure for the academy players.
The feel good factor seems to have hung around from last season. Long queues for the reopening of the club shop (I hope they haven’t sold out of the new retro gilet, size large. That’s a warning by the way to keep your hands off them), and while in the past there would probably have been a frenzy of opprobrium over the digital ticket news this week, it seems to have moved on, solutions found and most happy to return to scouring social media for shots of the lads in the States or reading of the latest young buck linked to the club.
Alex Bass slipped out of the club while Hemir, Bellingham, Triantis and Seelt have slipped quietly in at the start of the window, and Kristjaan Speakman has publicly stated there will probably be a hiatus while the team is in America, but more business is earmarked once they return.
The Ross Stewart ‘situation’ hangs in the air but has floated there so long it has become a thing. I was sorry to see Bailey Wright leave but it was an understandable move on his part I hope Danny Batth stays. His experience is invaluable.
With a Championship that to my mind looks stronger this season, I’d like to see a few more experienced heads in the squad - but IF this season the litany of injuries that the club suffered last can be avoided, the squad size should be healthier.
Last season’s top six finish has skewed predicting where Sunderland will finish this. It was as unexpected as it was welcome, but it has without question cranked up the pressure for another top six finish.
Southampton, Leeds, Leicester will all be strong contenders for an immediate return to the Premier League, but throw in the mix an Ipswich team bolstered by some big money spending and a bright upcoming manager; Coventry with the Gyokeres money to spend and Ellis Simms; Stoke with Alex Neil now able to work without last season’s shackles and the perennial challengers, Preston, Millwall, Blackburn and possibly Bristol City one imagines all vying for a top ten finish it’s going to be a much more competitive division to my mind.
I spent a languid hour or two writing all the fixtures in my diary’s this week.
Yes, diary’s plural, which should come as no surprise to you really. They’re written in pencil because they will inevitably change but writing each fixture in isolation none of them scares me.
Some are more challenging than others of course, but this Sunderland squad has proved they fear nothing. It should be another season to relish. There will be bad days inevitably but as last season proved the good days vastly outnumbered them. In the face of adversity Tony Mowbray remained calm and sanguine.
It is what it is. Of course it is. Haway the lads!
Stop-press: The Germans are coming (with my book)!