Won’t Be Home For Tea

My train’s at half nine so I’m getting the Metro at eight, just in case. I set my alarm for six this morning, in fact I set two alarms, just in case.

I was wide awake at half five so there was no need for alarms anyway.

If you hadn’t already guessed, I’m off to Wembley to see Sunderland. For the seventh time.

I’ve not seen us win yet but they say that seven is a lucky number. It wasn’t for Brad Pitt’s wife in the film of that name but we’re not talking about films, not yet.

I first ventured down Wembley Way in 1985 to see us lose to Norwich. An own goal and missed penalty, it was going to set a pattern for the rest of my life.

Next up was the lesser known Mercantile Credit Centenary Final in 1988. Travelling down the day after your eighteenth birthday full of last night’s vodka and orange from Finos was never going to end well. Puking in the car and an uninspiring draw with Wigan followed by another missed penalty in the shootout. It wasn’t getting any better.

The 1990 Play Off against Swindon, the 92 FA Cup Final against Liverpool,  the legendary 1998 Play Off against Charlton and then 2014 and Man City in the League Cup.

If you can have a favourite defeat, Man City was it. There was something special about the whole weekend, we dared to dream. London was ours for the weekend. The Borini goal, getting to half time in front against arguably the best collection of players in Europe, we were almost there.

Maybe this time.

My earliest memory is the 1973 Cup Final.  It’s either that or the time my Mam left me on a bus as a toddler but romance dictates that the Cup Final happened first. We watched it in the sitting room with the settee pushed up against the telly. All the neighbours were in, apart from the miserable buggers two doors up who didn’t like football, they were shunned after that.

The week after we won, my Uncle Bill queued for hours with me and my brother so we could get our photo taken with the cup, for that I’ll always be grateful. (He didn’t choose the outfits.)

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Today I’ll be travelling down with my brother and my Uncle Bill’s son. I may even recreate the photo with the Checkatrade Trophy if we win.

It’s hard to explain Sunderland to someone who doesn’t understand football. The best way I can think off is to revert back to films. ET in particular. Remember that bit where ET dies, the plant wilts and Elliot (good Sunderland reference there) is distraught? That is supporting Sunderland ninety nine percent of the time. It’s depressing, it’s upsetting, you never want to be put through it again. But then there is a sign, ET’s heart glows, he is still alive. Elliot loses his shit, uncontrollable emotion. That is Richardson against Newcastle, Bardsley at Man Utd, Armstrong against Chelsea, Borini at Wembley. Those moments where you lose all control of your emotions because nothing, nothing at all could make you happier. That’s supporting Sunderland.

My friend’s son is going to his first Wembley final this weekend. He got a tracksuit top from the club shop the other day and laid it out on his bedroom floor to admire. When she told me I knew that he was hooked, that’s what Wembley does. He’s stuck with it for life now.

She’s worried that he’ll be tired after losing an hour’s sleep when the clock’s go forward, I know he won’t sleep a wink all night. She’s worried that he won’t get a seat on the train, I know he won’t care and will be talking about this weekend for the rest of his life.

I can’t afford this weekend, I’m a penniless author. When I became a full time author I had to impose some drastic austerity measures, my season ticket being one of them. I always hated glory hunters when I was a regular but we were all one once, the 1985 cup run was my initiation, it was when I caught the bug. I paid my dues over the next thirty years, not only seeing our previous stint in the third division but the absolute shambles that took us there in the first place. I even kept my season ticket when I lived in Australia for a year.

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Do I feel guilty going to Wembley when I’m no longer a season ticket holder? A little. But I have to be there, just in case.

I know it’s a Mickey Mouse cup. I know it means nothing in the grand scheme of things and I’ll enjoy my weekend regardless but it would be nice, just for once, to be there to see us lift a cup at Wembley.


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