Countdown to Wembley: armchairs, shuttlecocks, rude interruptions – and then the drama

Jake: ' do we want two visits to Wembley, or just the one?'
Jake: ‘ do we want two visits to Wembley, or just the one?’

Here’s the start to a series of jottings on Sunderland’s success in reaching a Wembley final for the first time in 22 years. Monsieur Salut writes about our history of appearances at the national stadium at ESPN – – but everyone’s experience of these events is different, as are our respective levels pf passion and active support. Here, just to kick off the series, Paul Roberts tells of his own journey from mild passive interest to nail-biting anticipation … other readers should contact me if they wish to write something of their own

Jake: ' any chance of tickets for March 2 and May 17?'
Jake: ‘ any chance of tickets for March 2 and May 17?’

Countdown to Wembley: click along this line to see all articles in this series

As someone who can only be described as an armchair fan these days, my experience of the cup run has been somewhat low-key, to be honest.

In the early rounds we always struggle against lower-league opposition (and we very nearly went out to MK Dons, let’s not forget). When we beat Southampton in the 4th round, I started to get a bit interested, but when the QF draw was made, I pretty much gave up. There were 4 big teams left (Man C, Man U, Spurs and Chelsea) and they all avoided each other. It seemed pretty certain that we’d need to beat 3 of these in order to win the thing, and particularly in the position we were in, I could see no way whatsoever.

When the Chelsea game came around, I was telling people that I’d never been less interested in a quarter-final involving Sunderland (not that there’d been many!). When we won it, for the first time I got genuinely excited about it, but when I came down to earth I still couldn’t see us getting much further.

Before the first leg of the SF, I couldn’t see us taking a lead to OT which I knew we would need, so again I’d written off our chances. When we did it, though, I was actually quite hopeful – I thought that the resilience which Poyet has brought to the side might just see us through, and I was looking forward to the second leg.

So to Wednesday night. It was a bit surreal – my wife and I usually play badminton on a Wednesday night, and she was still keen to play so I agreed to record the match on Sky and watch it delayed later on. I’d never have entertained that idea 20 years ago, but I guess that and the fact that I was single then are not entirely unconnected. Anyway, we got in, had showers, had tea and I settled down to watch the match. I’d considered that there might be extra time so I recorded the next programme as well, just to be on the safe side.

Anyway, I sat through 119 minutes feeling really tense – proud of our performance as I thought we were superb, but looking like we were just going to fall short. Then, Bardsley got the ball on the edge of the area and …

My recording ended. I couldn’t believe it. Two minutes to go and I hadn’t seen the outcome. I thought about just going online and finding out what happened, but that would have been such an anti-climax.

However, I was saved by the fact that I was also recording the BBC highlights (despite my less passionate attitude, I’m still obsessive like that). It would have been about 10 minutes into the programme by then, so I wound forward from the beginning and found where I’d got up to. Crikey, am I glad I did that! I’d have missed all the drama!

Caroline still can’t understand why I get so wound up about it (and I still do, despite what I’ve said earlier) but she does enjoy it when I go around with a big stupid smile on my face!

So, yes, I’ve enjoyed the run and am still ecstatic by last night – but I’m still not as excited as I might have been in previous years because I just can’t see us doing it again. It’s astonishing that we’ve made it this far, but 3 Champions League-chasing teams? I honestly think we’re in for another Wembley disappointment, but, then … ITHICS.

One thing I want to mention which hasn’t been said yet. I thought there was a player last night who was absolutely magnificent, and he deserves a few accolades. Take a bow, Phil Bardsley. He was everywhere – defensively solid, and supporting the attack at every opportunity; indeed our best moves came from him, and he fully deserved the luck he got for the goal. I know he’s not everyone’s favourite on here, and some haven’t forgiven him for his moments of stupidity last summer, but he was MoM for me.

* Read more about Paul Roberts in our Mackem Diaspora series from a while ago:

1 thought on “Countdown to Wembley: armchairs, shuttlecocks, rude interruptions – and then the drama”

  1. I can fully understand Paul’s sentiments about the early rounds of this competition and for that matter the later rounds as well for that matter.

    The early rounds are a distraction from the real business for PL teams these days. That is reflected in attendances at these games including the first semi final of the Man Utd semi where 20 thousand were whittled off the average gate. That’s a clear indicator of the status of not only the League Cup but also of the FA Cup for the majority of PL club fans I suspect. That’s a real shame.

    What I do find surprising is that a great many of those who didn’t go to the home leg are probably saying that they would take cup success over avoiding relegation, given a clear choice. I can’t get my head round that.

    I’m delighted, well ecstatic about reaching Wembley but would hate us to do what Wigan did last year. Beat CIty at Wembley and go down. There is no choice involved so why we even look at it that way also takes come figuring out, but it’s what we all do.

    FGB Bruce made some comment about the early rounds of the League Cup,saying that people only got interested in it later on. If it gets interesting and is worth winning in the later stages how come it’s so unappealing in the early rounds? Well the harsh truth of it is this. The cup competitions are a lovely frivolity for the top 6-8 clubs who can put our a decent team and probably win anyway. It doesn’t take the effort that it requires for Sunderland or Wigan to get to the final. Great though it is to reach Wembley and there is nobody more pleased about it than me, it really is like having a petty money squabble when your marriage is in trouble.

    Paul is a great lad who used to stand very close to me in the Clock Stand Paddock all those years ago. We have known each other for about 20 years virtually and it was only a few years ago that we realised we had stood more of less shoulder to shoulder for all those years and didn’t realise it.

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