Sunderland AFC Opinion – The weekend that reminded us why we love this football club

Craig Clark brings us a very personal and important piece on what Sunderland's win at Wembley meant to him

I’ve not written about football for a long time, and I thought long and hard before writing this. I wasn’t sure whether to put it out there, about how I’ve been feeling and how it relates to Saturday. I couldn’t decide if it’s appropriate, or if I’d be able capture the truth of my emotions. Then, the words started flowing, and it felt honest, so I decided to trust my gut and to let my heart rule my head. So, here’s how I’ve been feeling and what Saturday meant to me.

The past two years have been difficult for all of us. They’ve taken their toll in ways we probably don’t even realise. I can attest to that. I’ve not really been feeling myself lately, not feeling like the person I thought I was. I could feel myself regressing to a version of myself I thought I’d abandoned years ago.

My sense of self-worth was ebbing, my self-esteem dipping; I was becoming a shadow of myself, unable to enjoy life properly, unable to take pleasure from the things that usually make me happy. I’d become anxious, afraid I was offending people whenever I spoke, paranoid about people’s opinions of me. All sure signs that something wasn’t quite right.

These things crept up on me. I didn’t even really notice it happening until I became overwhelmed and burst into tears in front of my family. I was forced to acknowledge something wasn’t right.

Was I depressed? Am I depressed? I don’t really know. There are people in much worse places than I am, I’m sure of that, but these things can get on top of you, and you have to do something about it before they do.

So, I started talking about things. It was a step in the right direction. I felt a bit better. I wasn’t just chasing thoughts and feelings around in my head anymore. My perspective shifted, my outlook changed, a shaft of light broke through the gathering gloom. It was a reminder that people care, too, that they love me. Not that I’d ever doubted that, but sometimes you just need a moment to feel it.

Anyway, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with football. Well, rather a lot, as it happens. I’d never suggest football can solve any of your problems, least of all those associated with your mind and mental health. It wouldn’t just be dangerous to do so, it’d be mawkish and dishonest.

But what football can do, at its very best, is special and unique. It lets you forget your idea of yourself, of who you think you are, and just be in the moment. There is no me when you’re singing “Wise Men Say” at the top of your voice with 46k other Sunderland fans. There is no sense of self when you’re jumping up and down screaming ecstatically as Elliot Embleton and Ross Stewart score. You become part of something else that is, in a word, otherworldly.

When people compare football to religion, it’s not just about devotion, belief, and worship, it’s about these moments. That is, Saturday was a religious experience. It sent us all to a special place of ecstatic bliss. You can’t recreate that feeling. It belongs to us as football fans, to us as Sunderland AFC supporters.

It was more than 90 minutes, too. For me, it was a day of shared revelry, of celebrating what it means to love our football club, to unabashedly just love it and not think about anything else. For others, it was an entire weekend of celebration filled with passionate displays of pure devotion to this club of ours. It was a weekend that reminded me, and I’m sure many others, just why we care about football, of why it matters to us. Its intangible, almost indescribable, but we showed the world and they saw us. More than that, they heard us.

“We are Sunderland.”

Never has that felt more meaningful to me, more significant and important, than it did this weekend. I feel so lucky, so privileged to be Sunderland and to have been part of all this with all of you. I’ll be forever grateful for those moments we shared together on Saturday. It was a life-affirming experience, a transformative reminder that things can be fun if you just let them.

So that’s how I’ve been feeling and that’s what Saturday meant to me. I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since. My heart is just so full, even now, as I finish writing this on Tuesday. Thank you, Sunderland AFC, for one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I’ll cherish it forever.