The football part of Martin Bates‘s grand pilgrimage to Sunderland, where his parents were born and raised before heading west to Canada, began with a stirring but losing performance at home to Manchester City. Since he was fearing the worst at Anfield on Saturday when two home goals went in, you can imagine Martin’s joy at witnessing a gutsy late revival. Here is part two of a Canadian Mackem’s trip-home diary …
To play on a classic opening line from Charles Dickens, “it was the worst of times, it was the BEST of times”.
My away day trip to Anfield on the Boldon Sunderland supporters’ bus certainly exceeded my expectations.
The day started early as I boarded the bus with fellow fans all dressed in red and white at 7:30am. With a small bag of “refreshments” in hand we were on our way.
Fortunately for me, I knew several people on the bus as I had met them when they were in my hometown of Toronto following Sunderland during pre-season this past July.
I was soon introduced to many more people and made to feel very welcome as I soon found out that the vast majority of the people on the bus make every Sunderland away day. A bi-weekly travelling family if you will.
See also: Sixer’s indispensable matchday account at https://safc.blog/2016/02/sixers-liverpool-soapbox-still-in-touching-distance-just/[/caption]
Chatting away passed the time and we stopped at a quaint pub about 40 minutes from the stadium. After a couple of hours of pre-match socialising we were back on the bus to the match.
Prior to entering the ground I was taken the the Hillsborough memorial. However as that part of Anfield was under massive renovations the memorial has been temporarily removed until the completion of these repairs.
Outside the ground, Sunderland and Liverpool fans freely mixed in the fan park.
It was now time to enter the ground and this was where I was truly introduced to “Sunderland away day experience”. Trust me when I say I heard it before I saw it. Inside the concourse of the stadium was absolutely mad with Sunderland fans singing at the top of their lungs, all the songs I have come to love over the years.
This was just the start. My seat (although I never used it as we stood the entire game) was 15 rows back from the field and right next to the barrier separating us visiting fans from the sitting Anfield regulars.
PS … one thing I forgot was about the substitution of Jordan Henderson in the 2nd half. He may have been politely applauded by the Liverpool fans BUT he was sung off the pitch to a chorus of ‘he’s one of our own’ by the Sunderland fans. I thought that was brilliant.
They say that hearing the KOP sing their song prior to kick off is something everyone should experience.
Well truth be told I never heard it due to us 1,800 Mackems outsinging them.
One thing I did notice during their song was that the KOP was devoid of the usual red Liverpool flags, scarves and all. These were replaced with lots of black flags which I believe was by design as part of their fan protest.
Unfortunately Sunderland did not play with the same intensity that I had witnessed on Tuesday night during the second half v Man City.
Sunderland did manage to keep a clean sheet in the first half which was a refreshing change. However they never really threatened to score either. Perhaps that is why the Liverpool fans were so quiet. The only first half noise was from the Sunderland faithful who never sat down & never stopped singing.
The second half saw Sunderland concede two very poor early goals. Poor marking and a complete defensive errors made me feel that again, like Tuesday, I was going to be present at another Sunderland defeat.
That’s when, on 77 minutes as planned, thousands of Liverpool fans streamed out of the stadium in protest of high ticket prices even though their team was two-nil up.
Sunderland fans serenaded them out and the departing home supporters then missed “a comeback”.
A good free kick from Adam Johnson made it 2-1.
In my heart of hearts I felt that that would be the final score, but thankfully I was wrong.
With the game all but over Defoe turned his man in the box, right footed a shot into the net and then it was bedlam (in a good way) among us Sunderland faithful.
What a feeling it was to be with these fans at this moment. THAT is why I made this journey. Although it was just a draw, the manner in which it came combined with where it happened was incredible.
At the final whistle, the players came over and clapped us fans and several players gave their game shirts to young kids in the crowd.
Needless to say the long bus ride home was a joyous one. I cannot say enough about my away day experience with the Sunderland fans. I made some new friends on this day and if I could steal another line from Dickens, this away trip by far exceeded any “great expectations” that I had.
Roll on Saturday and Manchester United. It’s time for me to see a Sunderland win …