Some people think football is a matter of life and death.
I assure you, it is much more serious than that.
— Bill Shankly
I want to start by saying I couldn’t give a flying fuzzy frog about Round Three of the FA Cup.
Essentially every football fan will understand this feeling. You don’t really start paying attention until you’re through to the Quarters and even then it’s with a gnawing feeling that you’re wasting good feelings caring about this because the cruel hands of fate will snatch it from you as they have so many times before.
In that sense, whether we win or lose matters very little to me at this stage.
But that’s not why everyone’s watching, is it? Something else is happening here, something far more grandiose than the FA Cup and far more important is happening on Saturday.
A lot of football fans feel hard-done-by these days. Some justifiably so, most not. It can be difficult to see the woods for the trees when your club is in a state of seemingly perpetual turmoil. News of a club being put through the wringer by incompetent ownership is all too familiar now. It’s a sad sight for most since the possibility of it happening to your club is ever-present, so empathy is not in short supply.
As a fan you watch these times come and pass, club by club, and gain a sense that clubs, like people, have a natural life-cycle.
Unlike our dark cousins, Sunderland fans have really been through the shit. There are war veterans with fewer scars and bad memories than your average mackem. Following Sunderland AFC has taken the old metaphor of a rollercoaster ride and loaded it chock full of steroids and TNT.
Every fan that was around for the club’s spectacular fall from grace what seems a lifetime ago went over the edge and tumbled down the rabbit hole with it. Struggling, sulking, raging in equal measure, we succumbed to the inevitability of our doom.
Those that lashed themselves to the mast and weathered that storm can say now, and only after many trials and tests of faith, that they see the light at the end of it all. Our team fought their way out of the sinking sand of League One by the sweat of their brows. It didn’t come easy; every player in red and white has been a fighter, and they’ve fought for us so that we can feel a pride that was cruelly stolen from us at the hands of incompetent ownership. Plus we pay them a bunch of cash every week, which is an added bonus of their hallowed calling.
For us the bad times have passed. We can be hopeful, we can be grateful, and we can be eager to begin the next step in the journey of renewal and rebirth. Our biggest problem now is which untested talent to risk 3 points on of a matchday, and keeping Dennis Cirkin on life support. It’s exciting. It’s refreshing. It’s given many of us back our love of the game. We have been rewarded for our unwavering belief.
But while all of this was going on, a corrupted excuse for evolution was simultaneously taking place in fair Newcastle. Where Sunderland remade themselves root and branch with canny investment in unknown talent and the devotion to embrace a new way of thinking, recruiting and playing, Newcastle went cap in hand to a foreign power and shamelessly begged for relevance in a world in which they had become increasingly irrelevant.
That call was answered by a man who wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire.
Innumerable geordie souls in the grinder and £600,000,000 of blood money later, they look upon their club with the false light of denial, as frauds and narcissists so often see the things they covet. The rest of the country isn’t unfortunate enough to be part of that collective delusion though, and rightly see Newcastle for what it is: a twisted beast that takes the very notion of idolatry and gives it teeth and yellow eyes.
Football looks upon Newcastle now as Doctor Frankenstein looked upon his own creation; an abhorrent monstrosity, something that should not be.
Which leads me to my point – why this match means more than you know.
Don’t let the fact that neither of these teams are going to win this tournament fool you into thinking there’s not a lot to play for here; there is so much more at stake here than a tin pot. Because what comes to Sunderland on the 6th of January is a dark cloud over the game, a stain on our very civilisation.
It is greed incarnate. It is anathema to the very ideals of the game and to what it represents.
It’s long been in vogue to talk about football as if it means something more than a bit of entertainment and jovial rivalry, to talk about it as if it’s life or death. Soldiers marching into battle. Tribes going to war. Another skirmish in the eternal battle between good and evil, etc. Normally that’s a load of old bollocks conjured up to squeeze a few more grams of fervour out of the genteel audience. Today it is not bollocks. Today it is true.
So it is then that the Sunderland team that comes out of that tunnel at 12:45pm go forth as righteous men, tasked to bring humility to our enemy, to challenge the insidious, inexorable advance of blood money in our sport – and by extension, our culture.
Any cut that can be made must be made. Any opening, any weakness must be exploited and the light of the world’s scrutiny shone directly into the open wound. The sackless curs that roll up to Wearside this weekend come with the hope that their beloved, murderous owner can buy glory and legitimacy in this, our world. This cannot stand. It must be met at every conceivable turn and with every weapon at our disposal.
On Saturday, Sunderland AFC will be doing God’s work.
Despite the best efforts of supposed saboteurs, there will be no warm welcome found at the Stadium of Light for the lapdogs of the corrupt and vainglorious. Bottom feeders get scraps, not plaudits.
They will come as hollow shells of the fans they once were, in their nervous droves, and they must never be allowed to forget what they truly are, what they have allowed themselves to become, and how truly pitiful they now seem to the legions of football fans that recognise what that once-proud institution of the game has become. Theirs is becoming a diseased and sickly thing, choking on its own hubris. They no longer have an identity. We should pity them, not hate them.
But if you can’t summon pity, hate will suffice.
And if the worst should befall us, and these interlopers are allowed to leave with anything more than nothing, we can at least console ourselves with the knowledge that what Sunderland have now had to be built rather than bought. No soulless boon weighed out with Faustian flair dragged Sunderland up from the muck – it was earned the way it should be earned. It has true value. It will stand the test of time because unlike our enemies, our home is not built on sand.
Let it be known to the world that watches this game in the hopes that some small justice can be done, that Sunderland will not present their arses and beg for a pounding from a foreign power. Make no mistake – Sunderland are there to do battle, and they do it not just for us but for every football fan that ever believed they could be part of something greater than themselves.
Our journey is just beginning, and a Newcastle pelt will make a fine addition to the mantel.
Haway the lads. Fuck the mags.