As the hangover and raw emotion have finally started to wear off I thought it time to add my memories of weekend that will live forever with me, and no doubt many Sunderland supporters in the north east and beyond.
It’s 14:33 on Friday afternoon and the trains pulls away duly bound for London as opposite me sits my football wife and all-round bundle of positivity, WMS’s very own Jimmy Reay. We are kids at Christmas as we bask in the luxury of securing a table seat, as phones are plugged into charge and cans are commenced from my trusty cool bag.
Jimmy is pumped and has set off at a strong pace, a sign of things to come, a clear can ahead of me by the time we merrily drift into Euston Station some two hours later. A quick bag drop at the hotel, a swift road beer and we have landed at the hotly tipped McGlynn’s Free House for our first drink in a glass. It’s there we are met by friend of the pod Dan Howdon for a pint before the three of us head on over to what is now considered a WMS stronghold, the Marquis Cornwallis in Bloomsbury.
We secure a corner of the bar and over the next hour or so WMS members drift in; Tom Walsh armed with schnapps, Matt Keeling with mints and an address book. Matchday duo Frankie and Danny, and my good friends Rob, Alex and Pete are also sat with us as the anticipation builds up.
At this point I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Now well on our way, we felt obliged to get ourselves down to Trafalgar Square and just confirm that all that no drinking scaremongering was all just a poor bluff by the Met Police. Back in 2019 Trafalgar was the mainstay of our Wembley weekends, however this time around it was nice to just drift in and soak up the later exchanges. We end up in the Admiral and get a 100-person strong rendition of the Gary Rowell chant going, bar staff did not appreciate this!
Matchday is here and nerves are outweighed by optimism, and the only rational reason for this is my undying faith in the shiny headed Scotsman Alex Neil. A game by game operator, a man with a plan, an unblemished play-off record – this is our year… surely? Our season card companions Chris and Stephen give us the wake up call as they arrive into King Cross at 08:30 and need to drop off their bags before heading to Baker Street to get the day started.
We establish the holy grail in Wetherspoons, a table with a number, meaning our breakfast and drink orders are done from the luxury of an app, whilst the bar stands six-deep. The first pint of the day is a slow one, but then the body kicks in to stag do mode and normal service is resumed. Then around midday we feel it’s time to drift on over to Wembley, usually at this time I am awash with nerves.. today feels different.
We walk down a dry Wembley Way, swerving Box Park and the reduced fan zone, and head to queue in the purple quarter as Jimmy and I have middle tier seats affording us access to the Club Wembley bar (a far cry from the league one terraces we have stood on the last four seasons). Then our first barrier (literally) on what is a fluid trip (again, literally) so far, as we discover the say 100 metre queue appears to be completely and utterly static. At this point Jimmy is very concerned and feels he needs to get clarity on the situation immediately.
It transpires each ticket has a time on it, and ours says 13:30.. like David Brent on a blind date we mutter under our breath in despair as we contemplate what we do for the next hour. We have a quick board meeting and decide that straight up begging is the best angle of attack, based on my family (who we are sat with) are already in there. It worked, we are in!
Basking in the fully accessible bar we are joined by Jimmy’s brothers, my family, and catch up with WMS colleagues Gareth Barker and Chris Weatherspoon. Chris’s dad see’s off a hotdog, with chopped onions and mustard flying absolutely everywhere, so Chris decides the Weatherspoon reputation needs rescuing, so proceeds to eat his with a knife and fork! We had a great chat about the early days of supporting Sunderland and not so much about Madrox.
My uncle and his friends, who have been to the last seven Wembley defeats, seem to have a new found optimism which is unheard of in the last 25 years they have been taking me to games. We take to our seats, essentially in the centre of the red and white horse shoe that surrounds those Wycombe slugs, and the noise is deafening as the national anthem and Wise Men Say is belted out. The game starts, it’s down to business, of course we do not sit down.
Now if you’re like me you were either at the game and/or have watched it on TV, so I don’t need to summarise the match on here. However, the limbs that followed the Embleton and Stewart goals is something I will never forget. My body did some mileage on both, and it’s safe to say I was welling up when the second one went in, and smiling crying wreck at full time. The last time I have stayed in a ground for so long after a game was when Kieran Richardson scored that free kick against the Mags, and their fans were locked in to suffer. Today, for the first time in our history, we got to see the celebrations of our play off winning team. Every single player turned up today, Alex Pritchard deservedly got man of the match, but any of our colossal back four could’ve got it, though that may have mistold the narrative of the day.
Some radge cans of Red Stripe were necked on Wembley High Street, then the tube back to the centre and a reunion with our friends and WMS legends back in the Marquis Cornwallis. Lots of emotions spilled out from all involved, heavy hugs, and permanent smiles.. the heavy weight of disappointment had been lifted off all our shoulders. The night ended ironically with more cans of Red Stripe in the early hours as we stumble across the Son of Pele, Martin Smith with “just a right-back” (Smith’s words) Darren Holloway. We undoubtedly chatted utter nonsense to them for the best part of an hour, but what was great to see was two former players simply massive lads fans like the rest of us. Uber to the hotel, numerous Just Eat order failures and our day and weekend is over.
I know it was only a trophy for getting out of League One having finished fifth in the table, but for the first time in six years, we’ve made a positive step forward. How Alex Neil has got that squad playing at the tempo they do, so organised and committed, is beyond remarkable. The squad was knackered and disjointed when he took over, and without a single opportunity to rest, he has injected life into the whole place. Alex, we are right behind you.. owners, the financial fair play and long term plan excuses are over, we are now in the league for investment.
We as fans are all emotionally invested in our club, and at WMS, as fans first we are no different. That being said the extra hours with research, hours of group chat, laptops and microphones accompany that journey to produce the output of this special fanzine.
We live and breath every game, every transfer, every peak, every trough – so the hard times live far too long in the memory. Let’s hope this weekend goes a long way to healing the League One scar tissue and we can finally get back to a packed stadium this July only looking forwards, and plenty more memorable days like these.
Ha’way the lads!