Sunderland, nerves and Kylie in a cheesecake.

This was originally posted on May 11th 2016 before Sunderland played Everton. They won 3-0, I’m not sure what I was worried about.

 

“How many times?” A question familiar to many Sunderland fans. Bowel movements are rarely used as a measure of anything outside of a hospital ward but they are a fairly accurate indication of nerves prior to a big match.
The Nightowls and the Exiles have been keeping the  internet forums ticking over but they slowly start waking up around five. A gentle awakening, nobody wants to get too excited before breakfast.
Is six am too early to text someone? Of course not, they’ll have been up as soon as the sun poked it’s head over Roker Lighthouse.
I’ve been up a couple of hours now, in another eight I’ll be in the pub wondering why I can’t stomach curry and chips. You’d think I’d learn.
These sort of nerves are normally reserved for derby matches or the rare as hen’s teeth Cup Final but today, today is special.

A home match against Everton is not normally something to get excited about. I neither like nor dislike them, they are just there. I can relate to them having arrogant, self important neighbours. I can relate to them having another underperforming season. But Everton aren’t important here, it’s what the match represents.
The opportunity to escape relegation yet again is exciting and the sense of relief if this is achieved will be immense but there is that little cherry on top of the cake, the chance to relegate Newcastle. In fact it’s not a cherry on top of the cake, it’s a bloody great Black Forest Gateaux on top of a giant cheesecake that Kylie Minogue has just popped out of.

We’ve been here before of course, when Shearer took them down in 2009 but this feels different. We are regularly fooled into feeling like this but this could be the start of something.
Despite Newcastle historically ‘winning’ the last two transfer windows, Big Sam used January to make some astute signings that, lets be honest, not many of us had heard of and also to offload a couple who were rumoured to have a less than professional approach to the game.
I can pinpoint the exact moment when everyone got behind Allardyce’s mini revolution. In a spirited performance against Man City, Lamine Koné delayed a tackle by a split second then took the ball and Yaya Touré in one motion leaving the Man City captain poleaxed on the floor. The crowd erupted, there were flasks and blankets flying all over the East Stand. This along with Kirchhoff bossing the midfield had Touré leaving the field, dazed, confused and just a little bit scared.

For far too long we have been detached from the players, maybe getting excited for one of our many derby victories, being fooled into thinking there is a connection when they turn up for the last half a dozen matches of a season then con us again for the bulk of the next one. Now it feels different. Big Sam has spoken about how they have changed the atmosphere in the dressing room but the change in the stands is not something I was expecting.
The club has rightly been criticised for its awful PR over the past couple of years but we’ve started to get it right. Whoever run’s Koné’s Twitter account is a genius. Whoever decided that the little lad who missed out on getting Big Sam’s autograph would be invited to the ground to meet him knew how to tug at the heart strings.

The players here before January have also upped their game. Borini will never be happy playing out wide but he will graft and graft and occasionally come up with that little bit of magic. Cattermole will always be limited but he has been given a job to do and he has done it. Then there is Jermaine Defoe.
Nobody doubted that swapping Altidore for him was a good deal, swapping Altidore for the local lollipop lady would have been a good deal, but he’s gone about his business like a true professional and found his way into our hearts. From virtually playing at Right Back under Dick, he has now found himself up top on his own, a position most of us and one hundred percent of ‘experts’ thought he wasn’t capable of mastering.
He keeps banging the goals in and for someone who appears so clinical and unflustered during the game, the unbridled emotion he emits when he scores shows he is one of us.
We’ve been here before with Darren Bent, we fell in love with him and via Twitter he proclaimed his love for us, it’s hard to trust someone again after that. But Jermaine isn’t hogging social media looking for love, he’s not that needy. He knows we love him. We know we’ve gotten under his skin.
Less than a fortnight ago, 1-0 down at Stoke and Newcastle winning against Palace, things looked bleak. Thinks always look bleak in Stoke. Then up popped Jermaine again to keep us in the race.

Anybody who was at the Charlton play off match in 98 will say they will never witness such a roller coaster of emotions again, it left us physically drained. Saturday against Chelsea is the closest we have come since.
Some bad defending from us, a slice of luck for them and they are one up in under quarter of an hour. Typical Sunderland.
Still time for us to get a draw out of it and whilst I’m still shouting at the ref for not allowing us to play the advantage, Khazri connects with a peach of a volley that sails into the top corner. Celebrations, bewilderment and laughter.
Seconds before half time and bad defending once again allows Chelsea to cut us open. 2-1 and I sit in silence at half time, nodding at my neighbours as they speak but knowing this could be the nail in the coffin.
A couple of odd looking substitutions, O’Shea for Koné and Watmore for Kirchhoff don’t inspire confidence at first but something special happens.
A cut back from van Aanholt falls invitingly to Borini whose shot deflects ever so slightly off that lovely John Terry and squirms into the bottom corner. Borini runs off with his hand in his mouth, I go tumbling down the aisle and return screaming in delight as the teenager opposite me looks on in horror as if I am going to hug him.
Maybe we will be ok.
The noise is deafening, the Roker Roar has returned. Less than two minutes later it goes nuclear. Defoe’s goal will stay with me for a long time. It wasn’t until I watched MOTD that I knew he’d taken his shirt off and cried in celebration. I was too busy getting a piggy back down the aisle off some ape of a man who I don’t know.
From that moment forward, every tackle, every throw was greeted with a roar like we’d won the cup. There was no exodus to beat the crowds on 90 minutes, we had to see this one out to the end, together.
When the manager of last season’s champions says his team couldn’t cope with the crowd, we know we’ve played our part.
Now we have to do it one more time. If we can, I’ve already checked the pubs with late licences. No work will be done tomorrow.
This is Sunderland and we never do things the easy way. It will probably be a nil all draw and the nerves will stay with us until Sunday and we’ll do it all again. But we’ve dared to dream before.
It’s the arse end of the season and I hope our collective arses hold out long enough to be celebrating tonight.


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