Above, our illustrator Jake manages to adapt the late Jackson C Frank’s brilliant Blues Run the Game and create a song for Sunderland at Wembley. Bravo.
And now Salut! Sunderland kicks off its annual series of end-of-season reviews even before the season’s quite over.
Our deputy editor Malcolm Dawson wants to make the point that come what may on Wembley Way, Sunderland AFC is in a much better place at least since the short-lived spell of optimism after Big Sam’s great escape and probably since the glorious part of the Peter Reid era.
If you feel you have something worth saying by way of your own review of the season, follow the link in this piece …
OK, I know the season isn’t officially over until sometime after 5pm UK time on Sunday, but whatever the result I feel it appropriate to post my thoughts during the lead up to the game.
Many people live in the moment and events change those peoples’ perceptions whilst others look back to the past, reflect on former glories and perhaps have an unrealistic perception of where things are today.
So I have taken the time to examine my thoughts and emotions from the past few years to see how that fits in with my current thinking.
Obviously I will be disappointed should we fail to go back into the Championship after Sunday’s game, but whatever the result I will still see this season ending on a positive. Promotion will be a successful end to a season of wholesale change, whilst another season in League 1 should be a platform for further strengthening and automatic promotion next season.
Those Championship winning seasons with their massive points hauls, and those brilliant seasons back in the Premiership under Peter Reid’s management at the newly opened Stadium of Light were perhaps the most enjoyable of the past 20 years but this season has pushed them close. We have rarely dominated games but have never been dominated. There have been occasions when I have been frustrated by mistakes made by individual players but never by their attitude. Not once.
I last felt positive at the end of the season after Big Sam engineered yet another “Great Escape”.
I saw then an opportunity to turn the club once more into a side that would be plying their trade in the top half of the top flight. No need for me to tell you how that panned out.
At the end of 2016/17 I wrote….”To put my feelings on the season just ended into perspective we need to think back to 2015/16” and went on to say …
“By the end of the season what we saw was a group of disparate and dispirited players, some of whom appeared to be going through the motions and some of whom pulled out with not entirely convincing injuries.” and “The whole club needs an overhaul.”
I began last year’s contribution with a quote from the Smiths’ song What Difference Does It Make “we have been through hell and high tide”. If I thought things had been bad in 2016/17 I was even more depressed 12 months ago and wrote …
- “The year of 2017 was the year I fell out of love with sport at the highest levels”
- “When I think of modern day football, I think of a Texan billionaire who walked in and took control of a fine old club and seemed happy to allow it to be run into the ground”
- “The whole way the club has been alienated from its fan base led me to not renewing my season card this year just gone and I haven’t missed it. I am doing other things and getting more pleasure from them”
but I ended with
- “Deep within me is the hope that Ellis Short will soon be just a name in SAFC history, that whichever division we find ourselves in, there is still a club of some sort left and that when that time comes, I will be able to rekindle the passion that has been driven from me. Then at whatever level of the pyramid system the club is at, I’ll be back and I’ll be right behind the team”
And things changed quicker than I thought they would.
Despite my long standing scathing criticisms of Ellis Short’s ownership I have to credit him for ensuring the club would be handed over to people with the best interests of the club at heart and in the process taking a big financial hit to allow the incoming owners to start their tenure with a level of debt which, although still massive, was a lot less than it might have been. Short’s appearance at the Checkatrade Trophy Final reinforced my view that here was a man who may have had the best of intentions, but whose working and cultural experiences had not prepared him for the task in hand at a club like Sunderland. He knew little about the game, little about the way a local football club impacts on those living in an area like the North East and little about the cultural heritage of Wearside and its surrounds.
Whether we go up or not this weekend I am celebrating amongst other things:
- an ownership team who have consistently stressed the importance of the club to its fan base
- a re-establishment of the links between the club and its supporters
- a manager who appreciates the aspirations of the fans and who acknowledges the importance of their support
- the handling of the Rodwell, Ndong and Djilibodji situation
- players who give 100 per cent and connect with the supporters
I know there are plenty of people out there who only judge success by results on the pitch, but for me it goes much deeper than that. Playing in this league has brought us into contact with plenty of true supporters, who no doubt harbour the same hopes as we do but who are free of the arrogance that sometimes comes with a “big club mentality.” Supporters of clubs like Rochdale, Stanley, Wimbledon and Scunthorpe which are an integral part of their communities.
And this season I feel we have got some of that back. The seat change, the open fan zone, the owners mixing with supporters, the Chairman offering to get a round in at Eastleigh for those travelling to Portsmouth, Max’s taxi, O’Nien kicking a ball about post match with a small boy, the boxing day ticket initiative, players going out into the community, Jack Ross and Stuart Donald visiting fans at home after hearing they were too ill to attend, the parade of miners’ banners. The list goes on.
But above all it is the attitude of the whole squad, whether playing or not, where we have seen a huge improvement. We may have lost some talented players but talent on its own is not enough and we have seen the truth of that far too often in recent seasons.
I’ll leave you with the words of Max Power from a recent interview:
There’s a group of players here now that understand what it means to play for this football club – who really want to play for this club and want this club to do well.
Good luck on Sunday Lads. You deserve it because you’ve worked for it.