And so it was that with barely a whisper the transfer window, only really ever ajar rather than open, quietly shut. Four players in, eight out. No sweeping changes, no pivoting from the end-game to console a few anxious hearts, it was by all definitions business as usual.
I don’t do social media because my blood pressure is high enough, but even being absent from that bitter gathering place of disconsolate souls is not enough to insulate me from the most persistent commentary.
So in answer to the question: am I happy with mediocrity? Damn right I am.
I’m content to understand what we are, to have humility, to understand the purpose of the game and the context in which I, as a fan, fit into that.
Because I’m content for football to be what it should be to all fans; comforting, hopeful, challenging – I’m content to enjoy the slices of tribalism that are still pure and noble, not corrupted by fallacies and delusions or simply tainted by how I feel about my life right now or what kind of day or week or month or year I’ve had. I want the distraction from real things that really hurt or bother, and that is what I am provided with.
That is my reward for my fandom.
To figure out what you yourself are content with, you must ask yourself a question, and it might be something you haven’t even truly considered: do you even want to be in the Premier League right now?
If so, what do you imagine it to be? What do you think it is that awaits you, beckoning? Something more than it ever was for us before? Because I remember that, and I remember how it panned out but more importantly I remember why it panned out that way.
Forget whatever you thought we were because we are no longer that, praise be. Premier League Sunderland was terminal, and it spluttered and wheezed around that division for years before it finally collapsed. We tried to buy our way into a pressure-cooker, in a place where burnout and even bankruptcy awaits the unwitting. A handful of staggeringly wealthy clubs can survive in that cauldron indefinitely. Nevermind how utterly dull it must be to support one of them.
If being turned over by a weak Newcastle team taught you anything (beyond how horribly incompetent and disconnected the hospitality management of the club is) it should have been that our team is not ready to play in that division. It is too young, it is too raw, and it would be hopelessly outgunned in almost every fight it starts.
It will remain this way for years. At least one year, but probably closer to three if not longer. Our (very wealthy) owner making it rain on carnivorous player agents and eager clubs like he’s on a three-day binge at Spearmint Rhino will not change our stars.
This is no bad thing. If you have friends that play football management games, talk to them about how they play and who they play as. See how many pick the wealthiest club in the world and play longer than half an hour. I’d bet my last arse hair that they’re more likely to start an FM game in the lowest possible division with the shoddiest team imaginable, because therein lies the game.
To quote my man Lieutenant Rasczak: “Something given has no value.” That is to say that it is only in the pursuit of happiness that we find it. To earn what you have brings satisfaction and the very action of obtaining it is in itself a pleasure.
All of this doesn’t even touch on the reality that in the eight years since we were relegated from it, we haven’t been closer to promotion to the Premier League than we are right now. This being our second season in the Championship (that in itself may shock some fans, by all accounts) we are already an established, stable side with a regular influx of attractive talent and a cost of revenue ratio that should make even the squeakiest accountant salivate on his keyboard. In our situation, we will be in contention for promotion every single season for the foreseeable future, with only the alignment of a handful of players in key positions being the difference between this league and the next.
So do we lack ambition, because we’re content with our current situation and steadfast in the plans laid out three years ago, plans that have seen us grow from strength to strength and open the floodgates of the Academy of Light so that hungry, profitable potential can pour in? Plans that have made us a destination of choice for the legion of players that are good but could be great, players who fall through the enormous cracks in a sport where, as evidenced by January’s trickle of business, the economic bubble may finally have burst and splashed all over the walls and the doors and the windows and the shagpile?
No, we do not lack ambition. We encapsulate it.
If you can look with clear eyes and level head at the work done on this club and the enviable progress made in a remarkably short space of time and truly believe that what we have, that what you’re witnessing, is a lack of ambition, I’m sorry to tell you that you have no idea what ambition is.