The date is 9 May 1992. Sunderland are in the FA Cup Final. I am seven years old. I don’t understand football much, but I am wearing my tiny Sunderland shirt anyway. Eight months earlier, my granddad had died. I don’t really understand death either, but I’ve got a feeling that today is somehow important to my granddad’s memory, something that I will only much, much later come to understand as mourning. At 5pm I am crying my eyes out, stamping up and down. Sunderland have lost 2-0.
The date is 2 March 2014. I am 29 years old. I am at Wembley, supporting Sunderland there for the first time. Six years earlier, my uncle, who took me to games as a kid, had died. I am wearing the 1973 FA Cup Final replica shirt he bought me – it’s falling to pieces, but I’m wearing it anyway. I look around the ground, wondering where my mam and my granddad stood in 1973, how they felt, what they were looking at. It sounds mad, but if I squint a bit, can I see them? I swear I can. Oh God. Borini. I’m crying now. I can’t breathe. I look around. Everyone is crying. Apparently Manchester City win 3-1, but I have no memory of their third goal.
The date is 26 May 2019. I am 34 years old. Wembley again, for the second time in a few weeks. I’m wearing my shirt. Charlton equalise, and they are never not winning. I’m just numb. I walk out of the ground, down Wembley Way. A Sunderland fan is slumped over by the wall, crying his eyes out. I walk over, slap him on the back, try to tell him everything is going to be alright, but do nothing more than choke myself up. Great. Now I’m crying again too.
The date is 21 May 2022. I am 37 years old. I am at Wembley again, supporting Sunderland there for the fourth time. I’m wearing that shirt again. It’s not got any less knackered. Normally I don’t get particularly nervous about football matches. Normally I’d be joking it would be funny if Josh Scowen somehow smashed in a thirty-yard winner. But not today. Not losing at Wembley today. I joke that if we lose I’m burning the ground down. It doesn’t really feel like a joke to me. But it’s fine. It’s over. Everyone is here and everything is going to be alright.