There’s nothing quite like football for making you feel old and cynical; whether it be players who were bursting onto the scene when you first got into the game becoming managers, or pulling Roy Keane style facial expressions at the latest bit of social media content pumped out by a top club’s PR team, you suddenly realise that you’re morphing in to yer da more and more by the day.
From a personal view point my cynicism probably peaked in the run up to our Carabao Cup quarter final with Arsenal in December. As the day of the game approached I could feel a real sense of excitement as people shared their plans for their trip to the capital.
No matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for the game. As much as I enjoyed Nathan Broadhead’s goal and thought we gave a good account of ourselves on the night, to me it was a painful reminder of how far we’d fallen.
I just couldn’t get gooey-eyed over getting beat 5-1 by a team who we used to play against in regular league fixtures and sometimes even win them. Yes, we played well in large parts, but in my eyes it felt as though we had become just another lower league club having their big, jolly day out at a giant of the game.
But the following day as I watched videos of our fans celebrating our goal and people reporting back how much they’d enjoyed their night, it occurred to me that for some of the away end that night, it was the first time they’d seen us play a club of Arsenal’s size.
For an 18 year old, in the away end that night, they would have been 14 or 15 when we went down League One, and kids in their last year of secondary school hadn’t even started comp the last time we played Arsenal in a league fixture.
Of course they were going to be excited, after spending their formative years watching the lads draw with Accrington Stanley, lose to Gillingham, and scrape wins over opponents you would expect us to swat aside, a night out at a club like Arsenal was always going to feel like a special occasion.
The realisation of this felt very bittersweet, although I was delighted to see sons and daughters enjoying their big night with their mams, dads and siblings, it made me really consider the consequences of being stuck down here for even one more season.
Tales of Sunderland success could not simply become a thing that happened to your big brother or sister or your mam and dad, we couldn’t have an entire generation of support who only knew of Sunderland languishing in the doldrums.
Although, we have hardly been littered with success during Sunderland supporting life, I had experienced the six in a row sequence and stood in the away end at Old Trafford as we beat Manchester United on penalties to secure a place in the League Cup semi final.
I watched us beat Manchester City at home four seasons in a row and defy the odds by pulling off great escapes time after time.
Even though my first four seasons of regularly going to saw two record low relegations from the Premier League, I also saw us make the semi finals of the FA Cup and win the Championship.
Now, the generation in danger of being lost have their own special memory of a day that saw a spine tingling atmosphere, a day that saw Sunderland not only take over the city of London, but on the pitch as well.
Next season, instead of trips to The Wham Stadium and The Jonny Rocks Stadium, we will be heading to Carrow Road, Vicarage Road, the Riverside and Bramall Lane.
They might not sound overly glamorous but compared to what we’d endured for four seasons it will be like being hosted at The Ritz every other Saturday.
Saturday’s win was a huge victory for the city, a generation of support and hopefully can breathe real life and momentum back into this club.
As the tears flowed and I hugged seemingly everyone in my section of Wembley there was no cynicism on my mind whatsoever and all I could feel was an overwhelming sense of pride of everything we have achieved since Alex Neil arrived at the club.
We have all been through hell and back to earn this moment and in years to come, The EFL Trophy will hopefully become a competition that our under 23’s compete in and we can start to dream of sharing a league with English football’s elite once more.