There was something in the air from the moment I arrived in London on Friday afternoon. No, this is not an air quality joke – c’mon I’m better than that – it was a feeling of inevitability, of everything aligning into place and it only grew from there.
During the 20 minute walk from Euston to our hotel with a case each and a big bag of cans; my roomie (and bedfellow it turned out) for the weekend, main companion for most Sunderland games this season, fellow Merseyside resident and WMS contributor Lambo and I couldn’t help but notice how many red and white shirts were everywhere already. We arrived just before 5pm and the takeover was already well underway.
The air was crackling with anticipation – there have been certain games before where I have had a similar sense – Defoe volley Derby win, 0-3 at SJP under Poyet, 3-2 at home to Chelsea, and 3-0 at home to Everton under Big Sam to name but a few. Sometimes, there is a feeling, but I’ve never had this feeling the day before a match until this weekend, and I’ve never, ever witnessed anything quite like what was to come.
Friday night was full of pints, laughs and, courtesy of my favourite Viennese and all-round hero Tom Walsh, some Slovakian Slivovitz which whilst being absolutely lethal at least gave me a partial excuse for the levels of inebriation that were to follow. Highlights included our takeover of the Marquis Cornwallis, a tube ride that mainly involved me talking to a 7ft2 American student about his college basketball career, and an hour in Trafalgar square where against all the odds I managed to meet up with my brothers and have a great time making as much noise and drinking as many cans as possible among the sea of people, chants and pyro. The night ended with an extremely long time spent in the local Five Guys where thanks to the biggest burger order I’ve ever seen (thanking you Mr Grimwood), I got some much-needed sustenance, and not only that I also found a load of unopened cans of Stella in a Tesco bag somebody had left, and Stephen Goldsmith. Good omen or what?
Feeling decidedly worse for wear the next morning, we headed to Baker Street Wetherspoons. Breakfast and a pint with the rest of the lads we have our season cards with was followed by more pints and some singing. As the pub filled and the chants got louder, the odd tables of Wycombe fans that had been in there gradually decided it was time to go, and each procession that did so was recognised in an appropriate manner. The atmosphere was exuberant, nervous but that feeling of inevitability I was talking about earlier was still there. There was no hint of trouble in those shared spaces with opposition fans, and the tube was no exception. The chanting was raucous from carriage after carriage of Sunderland fans, and although ours contained a few Wycombe too they were happy to give it their best in return. I even think they liked my off-the-cuff effort which ended with a line about Gareth Ainsworth living in a bin (really need to try and remember the rest of it, if only now to pass on to fans of teams who will actually have to play Wycombe again).
The atmosphere from start to finish in that game was genuinely something I have never experienced before. To actually witness a Sunderland win at Wembley is something no one had done in 49 years until Saturday; and that it came with the added sheer relief and pride that we have, after years and years of utter misery, actually achieved something and are now on the right path made it all the better. To watch the footage back now and to hear that noise it’s genuinely staggering to think I was a part of it, the ultimate collective experience. I probably haven’t cried twice in the space of fifteen minutes since 1995 but after the second goal and then the final whistle both did for me. I doubt I will ever forget much, if anything, of that match; but the one thing I know will stay with me above every other magical moment is the noise when Stewart’s goal hit the net. I have never, ever heard anything like it. Absolutely deafening and completely stunning.
Every single one of you that was there and everyone who wasn’t but was willing it to happen in exactly the same way helped make this happen. We did it. It was for all of us and given what we’ve been through, both specifically at Wembley and more generally in the past, boy do we deserve it.
As for the players and especially the manager: you’ll be remembered forever. At some point, I’ll write more about the football side of things but for now let me just say I’m absolutely staggered at the turnaround Alex Neil has spearheaded. He has some future with us if he’s given the tools he needs. He is comfortably the best manager we’ve had in years and I can’t wait to see what’s to come.
Saturday night was spent with more celebrations in the manner you’d expect. It was the best way to round off what was a perfect weekend supporting Sunderland. As someone who no longer lives in the North East, I can sometimes feel a little disconnected. I often can’t make weeknight home games although I do my best with weekend ones, and awaydays too. Being a part of Wise Men Say has definitely helped in that regard, and writing articles and doing pods has really enhanced my experience supporting Sunderland. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of my fellow WMS-heads, as well as other former members and associates who are now mates. You’re all legends and I love you.
We now need to look forwards. This is the type of momentum that the club needs to seize upon and maximize. If we do that then the sky’s the limit. For as long as we have support like we had on Saturday there is nothing we cannot do. We are all a part of that and I think I speak for all of us when I say:
BRING IT ON.