Some Sunderland fans have more reason than others to complain.
Jeremy Robson peeps out from his self-imposed wilderness – and how we miss him – to denounce “another dreadful performance and result”. He’s in Canada. So is Bill Taylor, anticipating Martin O’Neill’s post-match e-mail and the dreaded D-word: “Martin, before you say it, we’re ALL disappointed. In fact, some of us are gutted.” Yep, the D-word was there.
Jake, treasure that he is, was watching in Spain. And then there’s me, back in the deep south of France where I cannot even get the toaster to work, with the angriest, gloomiest piece I have written for ESPN since I was introduced to its website in the summer of last year. Back to that later, once I manage to produce something that isn’t either warm bread or a carcinogenic embers.
But you all know who I have in mind.
I followed them on Twitter this morning when I had nothing better to do and they were all heading south on trains, in cars and on buses. Despite the criminal price QPR grubbily levied on attending the game, we’d sold out our section. Hope, scarcely born of experience, was high. And the support it generated was as heartening as the team’s response to their passion and commitment was heartbreakingly flimsy.
The older ones among us can say we’ve seen it all before. At least we can enjoy a moment of nostalgia in May and recall when, 40 years earlier, men in red and white stripes did Sunderland, County Durham and football proud at Wembley stadium. Younger fans, not even born when we last enjoyed success that wasn’t just a promotion to follow one relegation or two, have memories of great SuperKev/Niall seasons – if even that isn’t, for them, too far in the past.
Today, we reached a nadir comparable to the 4-0 defeat at Reading on October 4 1997 that forced Peter Reid into a major rethink of who was worth the effort and who wasn’t. I will never forget Barry Emmerson, the friend with whom I attended that game, asking at half time (two down): “Do we want a lucky 2-2 or a 4-0 hiding that puts the fear of God into them?” Or words to that effect. The 4-0 worked; we got to the playoffs, up as champs the season after and then two seventh top finishes.
Martin O’Neill’s predictable apologia makes not the slightest difference to the reality that our wonderful band of away supporters was cheated twice, once by Tony Fernandes and once by their own team. Three times, come to that, if it is true that some were ejected for trying to hoist a flag protesting about QPR’s contemptible £45-a-head, a fiver off for pensioners, ripoff.
I salute every one of the fans who travelled.
But back to my ESPN piece. I ended it:
A post-match tweet from “Lisa” said supporting Sunderland and being teetotal was a tough combination. As it happens, O’Neill had talked in midweek about the welcome decline of football’s drinking culture. He was not quite right; watching Sunderland might drive anyone, in time even Lisa, to drink.
I have no idea where Lisa Dunn – “I’m just me … SAFC supporter and massive F1 fan — and proud mammy too” – watched the game. But her tweet made me laugh, my ESPN reference chuffed her to bits and I’m pleased to have made her day slightly less grim.