- This blend of history, hope, yearning and passion is what football is all about
- George Caulkin
- February 28 2014 07:02AM
- This is it. This. That flutter in the belly, that sprinkle of nerves, that wondrous, aching possibility of this time, this time, for God’s sake PLEASE let it be this time. That cacophonous train ride, that lad sitting opposite decanting booze into Ribena bottles, that motorway convoy, scarves trailing from windows, that persistent, pissed memory from last night: your mate in a copper’s helmet, sopping and shivering in the Trafalgar Square fountains. This is it.
- This is what football is. What it was. That walk towards Wembley, at once familiar and new, the old chants and the remixes, scorching the air. The fella you recognise from a few seats along at the Stadium of Light, who never stops moaning – that miserable git – but he’s strolling beside you and he’s neither miserable or moaning, because he’s shepherding his kids, fussing and smiling. They couldn’t miss this. Not this.
- This is it. Not enough to obliterate all those disappointments, those bitter, loveless relegations, but you wouldn’t want that, anyway. They are part of who you are. Part of Sunderland. And whether you stopped going or persevered, whether you are an addict or a convert, a malcontent or a loyalist, this is your patience through adversity, your gallows humour, those howls of anguish. This is why you do what you always do; bear witness and sing.
- But this is how it should feel. This is less about winning – although you wouldn’t say no – than giving it a go. Trying everything and then heaving a bit more. Not holding yourself in. Seeing a flash of silver across the stadium and knowing that 90 minutes could mean a long journey’s end and another beginning. This adrenaline. This soppy descent into cliches about heroes and giant-killings, those stories about Stokoe’s sprint and Monty’s sorcery. About daring to dream.
- This is why your dad passed down that beautiful, cursed birthright. Your mam or your sister, brother or friends. This is why he stood at Roker Park, so cold and crammed that his legs were locked and leaden. This is why you shook together at those reserve-games, why you stayed outside when the rain whipped in, your mouth numb and nose running. This is why you put up with his stupid music on that endless away trip. This is all those feelings like love and loss, straining for release.
- This is Sunderland, your Sunderland. This is your city, your town, your village, your region, forgotten sometimes and left to suffer, but prominent now, loud and raucous. This is supporters’ associations and local branches, working men’s clubs, community and togetherness, collective strength, being part of something both greater than and intrinsically you. This is pride – stinging tears of pride. This is raising your head and gazing at the sky, not staring down at your navel.
- This. Not that great, grotesque lie about priorities. Not swallowing the guff that one season of toil should be superseded by another, that having endured the delights of Stoke City, the only ambition must be straining to get to Stoke again. You know what Stoke’s like. Christ. Aston Villa, Crystal Palace. Tick them off. Been there, seen it and, you know what, they’re not that much different from Leicester, Queens Park Rangers and Birmingham.
- Not couldn’t be arsed. Not withdrawing your best players for a one-off match because of 38 league games which simply must take precedence in a cold, grey world of sporting accountancy. Not fear. Not dread. Not measly, weasel-word excuses for laying waste to tradition because of avarice or arrogance and cowardice. Not name-changes and colour-swaps and franchises, or a stadium’s brutal nobility scarred by garish advertising hoardings for money-lenders and tat-hawkers.
- Not the bottom-line. Not the profits or the losses, the turnover and the revenue, the wage-bills and the relegation-clauses, because when the files are lodged at Companies House, they will not be hailed with an open-top bus ride, a civic reception, or a hazy, alcoholic day which stays lodged in the brain. Not Financial Fair Play, not billionaires, not the stodge of mid-table and totting up television revenue after one more lunchtime kick-off and a 200-mile journey.
- Which is not to toss away the prospect of staying up. Nor to deny that it matters for progress and development and all those other birds which have never quite flown. But neither is it everything, because you’ve slumped before and ricocheted back. Having squirmed through long, sapping sequences in every single season since Roy Keane and Niall Quinn secured your return to this ceaseless, daft, grasping jamboree, you reckon you can cope.
- This, though. This is something. This is different. This is booking your London hotel en route from that draining, life-affirming semi-final, when those caustic commentaries about the worst penalty shoot-out in the history of awful penalty shoot-outs missed the point entirely. It was the best. This is snaking, sluggish, twitchy queues outside the box office, 80,000 frantic telephone calls on a single day, begging for favours, scurrying for tickets.
- This is a day out and a night away, a daubed blur of red and white. This, like the song says, is cheesy chips on Wembley Way. And win or lose, this will be recorded and you were there, one small figure lost amid the din, but integral to it, which, in the final analysis, is what clubs and their supporters should mean. What football is. This is history, hope, yearning and passion, maybes and meaning, exquisite agony, wild abandon, love. This is you. This is Sunderland. This is it.
- In memory of Kevin Twist and to Lyndsey, his daughter, with love.
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