Football can do funny things to you. It is just 26 months since Sam Allardyce skilfully guided Sunderland to Premier League safety, but now the club is only a couple of days away from the start of a season two levels below… and, as a lifelong supporter, I can honestly say I’m more excited about what’s to come at the Stadium of Light than I have been in years.
I’m not just saying that in a childish attempt to mask my searing agony caused by two seasons of horrific back-to-back relegations – I’m genuinely fizzing with anticipation at what lies ahead from Saturday onwards. Even if it’s another relegation (it won’t be, it can’t be).
It’s rare that a club gets in the kind of stinking liquid mess that Sunderland was allowed to get into. It’s even more rare when it gets the opportunity to reboot itself without the pain of administration or financial fair play penalties.
But that kind of reboot is exactly what has happened. As Stevie G once said, we go again.
Hopes were high after that Big Sam-powered revival, helped in no small part by the inspired January ‘K-Power’ signings of Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchoff.
However, within months, Allardyce had departed for his lightning-stop tenure as England boss and of those three key signings, Khazri and Kone turned out to be huffy mercenaries while Kirchoff’s knees turned out to be made of crisps.
I mention them now because Khazri and Kone have clung on to the payroll like a bad smell since then, and their departures over the summer are part of the final severance with that old guard made up of lazy, unmotivated chancers that helped us sink like a brick down to League One.
Even though the club’s new owner, Stewart Donald, has only been in place for a few weeks, that old era already feels like a long time ago. Donald is all about transparency and it’s almost becoming tiresome to read and hear interviews with him. Okay, I’m exaggerating, it’s actually fantastic.
When he first took over, Donald spoke about the new hierarchy being as one with the supporters, suggesting that fans come down to the club and help replace the faded pink seats, everyone coming together as one to spruce up the Stadium of Light.
At the time, it sounded like a health and safety nightmare but Donald just ploughed ahead and it actually happened (I didn’t go along myself as I have delicate hands).
Financially, we’re also back to square one. The mountain of debt that had been piled up by previous owner Ellis Short has gone, wiped by Short himself in a stunning act of blame-ownership that you’d be lucky to see anywhere else in football. Most owners who have f***ed up usually engineer a way of skulking off and leaving the fans to live through the consequences but Short always said he had the best interests of the club at heart and with his final generous act, he’s made it impossible for us to loathe him even though he guided us to the third tier.
The total reboot is evident on the pitch as well. Recruited from St. Mirren, Jack Ross comes with heaps of plaudits from his time north of the border, with the PFA Scotland Manager of the Year trophy under his arm, as a result of leading the Saints to the Championship title.
Player recruitment has been slow but steady, with eleven new names and faces for fans to learn and memorise as the new team looks to gel and hit the ground running if possible. Ross says that not getting promoted would be a failure, so we can expect a proper crack at going up with no mealy-mouthed excuses about needing time to rebuild if it doesn’t happen.
The new players will be added to a paper-thin squad, but one that contains young, hungry players who seem to want to put right what has gone wrong. Our new club captain, midfielder George Honeyman was on loan at non-league Gateshead during that Allardyce escape season, and it’s heartening to see a young local lad leading the club into the new era.
Then there’s the fans, loyal to the last. They seem to have wholly bought into the new regime, with over 21,000 signing up for season tickets before a player had been signed. Over on Twitter, @PRH12345 worked out that in the past two years, our pitiful record of six home wins meant that the holder of the cheapest season ticket had paid £130 per home win witnessed. Grim.
Another shocking stat – over the past ten years, Sunderland have had the rock-bottom worst results record out of any club in all four divisions… and the eight-highest average attendance. No one can tell us we don’t deserve a change of luck and a bit of success.
At the time of writing, over 28,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday’s televised season opener at home against Charlton. Manchester City hold the record average attendance across a season for League One, with 28,273, and if Sunderland can get on a winning run, we’ll obliterate that total with ease.
After a decade of neglect, it feels as though the club is being treated with love again, and being ran the way it should be.
The reboot has happened… but to be honest, I still wouldn’t bet against us being bottom of the league by the end of August.
Sunderland be Sunderlanding…