Many readers will recall Martin Bates‘s welcome contributions in words and pictures from Toronto when the pre-season tour reached Canada. From pure Wearside stock, Martin is Sunderland daft and anyone befriending him on Facebook will have sensed his great excitement at starting a trip back home, picking up tickets for the Man City, Liverpool and Man Utd games and soaking up the atmosphere and beer of the city where his roots are found. This, we hope, is the first of at least two slices of his back-to-Sunderland diary …
Although I was born and have lived within a few miles of Toronto, Canada for my entire 40 plus years of my life, I have always felt that Sunderland should be my home.
This is mainly due to the fact that prior to my parents emigrating to Canada in 1967 and having me, both my parents were born and raised in Sunderland.
Despite being a born and bread “Canuck”, football not hockey was always in my blood. I loved playing and did so from I was four till eighteen.
Growing up I was very fortunate to fly over each year and visit with the numerous relatives who still resided here. One of my favourite things to do on my childhood visits was to walk the length of the pier & speak to the various fisherman along the way. They were always so kind to me. Perhaps because of my Canadian accent?
These annual childhood vacation trips ended in 1988 and unfortunately for me, I have only had the pleasure of returning to Sunderland on two occasions since 1988. Both trips were football related as I returned for four days in 2003 to see England vs Turkey at the Stadium of Light then Sunderland host Chelsea three days later.
My other trip back was more recent as I was fortunate enough to get tickets with my cousin Declan to the League Cup final in 2014 at Wembley.
The weekend in London with the thousands of other Sunderland fans was something I will always treasure.
That leads me to this trip in 2016. Fortunately since the boom of the internet and cable TV, I have been able to watch just about every Sunderland match and my love for this team and the passion of the fans is immense.
As I work in the golf industry, I have a lot of downtime in the winter months. As opposed to taking my usual winter trip to the Caribbean I decided I wanted to come see Sunderland play at the SOL.
When I saw that I could see three SAFC matches in the span of 10 days (two home, one away) I booked up for a 14-day Sunderland visit. Unfortunately for me, the passing of time has left me with only two cousins currently living here.
I arrived in Sunderland on Monday with my first of three SAFC matches being against Man City on the Tuesday.
Early Monday was spent getting settled into the hotel. I then met my Norwegian cousin who had also flown over to come to the match as well one of my two Sunderland based cousins for a few pints and a catch-up chat. I was an early night for me Monday as I’d been up for about 30 straight hours.
Tuesday was match day. I put on my Sunderland gear, bundled up and then walked the 45 minutes to the SOL and then into the city centre.
Luckily the gusty wind was at my back for the entire way.
After a few pre-match pints and a great dinner at my cousin’s, it was off to the match.
Walking up the tunnel and “into the light” was an amazing feeling. My seat was first row right by the corner flag in the north end. I was happy to see new signing Kone in the starting lineup.
Unfortunately Sunderland continued their bad habit of conceding a goal in the early stages of the game. That goal kept the crowd of 38,000 relatively quiet for the remainder of the 1st half.
Joe Hart’s constant timewasting even in the first half drew persistent jeers from the crowd. The other big first half noise was for Sunderland’s missed chance at the stroke of halftime.
The second half saw the introduction of Khazri. His first touch, a flying back heel was a promising show of intent.
The biggest cheer of the night was for Kone. He absolutely flattened Yaya near the halfway line to the delight of the Sunderland fans. Yaya stayed down the way most of Mike Tyson’s early opponents did.
The team’s second half performance certainly showed promise. Kone, Kirchhoff and Khazri were very impressive. Once again though a good performance resulted in no points. With games running out, performances like these need to be converted into points.
This match was the first of my three scheduled games on my trip.
Next up for me is hopping on the Boldon supporters’ bus and heading down to Anfield on Saturday. This will be my first proper away game and I am so excited for this experience. To join in with the away fans that I see and hear on TV every Sunderland away match is something I am so looking forward to be a part of.