During the summer, a friend of mine asked me who I’d be supporting ‘now that Sunderland have gone down’. I couldn’t get my head around the question at first – what could this southern-based Manchester United fan mean?
No, Chelsea, no, wait, City. Oh, whoever he supports this year.
My club is my club, I can’t pick and choose. I can’t just go and buy a new scarf and pledge allegiance to an entirely different team just because my team lost a game or two, or, in fact, most games for about five years!
They are my club, my city, my community.
It’s like a family, and although we’d sometimes like to deny they’re our family, we stick by them. We help them when they need us, knowing they will, from time to time, lift us from our daily grind to a level of excitement, pleasure and pride that no other sport brings.
Our community used to have mining, shipbuilding and football. They took two of those away, and yet we are stronger than ever.
The highs of winning and the lows of losing are only there when it’s Sunderland. Changing allegiances isn’t an option. I’d never feel the way I feel about Sunderland, so why would I do that?
And, when you stop and think about it, both winning and losing, the ups and the downs, are equally important to being a fan of a football club.
During the good times, our job is to store the happy memory, sit back and cheer on the lads, our reward for years of hurt. During the bad times, our job is to be the twelfth man, to get the team going, to quieten the away fans and make the opposition players wonder why they ever thought playing at the Stadium of Light was a good idea.
And that’s been one of the best things so far this season. The belief. The power of the crowd in the stadium on matchday to cheer the lads on. To give them the strength to know we’re behind them every step of the way.
A penalty for Charlton went in, but immediately the fans roared the players forward. A year ago, we’d lost that atmosphere. A year ago, down to 10 men and a goal down against Oxford, we’d have folded and we’d have lost by three or four goals in a quiet and rapidly emptying stadium.
But it’s back. The buzz of matchday. Coming together with your family and joining 30,000 of your extended family, united in one goal for 90 minutes. That feeling, that fortress, is one of the things that can win us this league and no one else in this division has anything close to it.
We demand everything from the players because that’s what we give, filling the away end at Gillingham on a midweek evening, getting over 30,000 fans for games in the third tier of English football.
The players know what we expect, and, from what I’ve seen this year, they’re stepping up to the mark. If we keep our 100% commitment this season, they’ll keep giving everything on the pitch – they know what we’ll say if they don’t, and I reckon Jack Ross will not be one who puts up with 95% effort either!
I couldn’t get that buzz, that passion, that desire in any other club or in any other sport.
So, the answer to who will I be supporting this season is Sunderland AFC, and that will always be the answer.
And if we, the fans, keep giving what we have so far, and Jack and the lads keep giving the effort we expect of them, I have no doubt that we’ll get out of this league at the first attempt.
We’ll shock the home fans with our packed away ends and we’ll terrify the opposition in our Wearside fortress.
We’ll cheer the players through thick and thin.
It won’t always go our way, I think that’s worth remembering. There’ll be mistakes and slip-ups along the way, but our job doesn’t change – be there for our club, our city and our community.
When the message was spread that some of our community needed help with food, we didn’t just bring a can from the back of the cupboard to say we’d done something, we brought tonnes of food, and the under-23s and under-18s were there to help their community in a moment of need.
When our seats in our ground needed improving, we fitted them, alongside players, coaches and owners, looking after our home in our community.
When the players need support, they know we’ll be there. Why? Because we’re Sunderland.
One club, one city and one community, and we always will be.
The views expressed within this article are the views of the individual contributors and not necessarily those of Sunderland AFC.