1999 was a great time to be a Sunderland supporter. We were promoted to the Premier League with a record-breaking 105 points, we stuffed Chelsea 4-1 and ended an almost ten-year period of Tyneside dominance by beating Newcastle United 2-1 at St James’ Park.
In the Autumn of that year, Fleetwood Town had a vital clash with a Newcastle of their own, when they took on Newcastle Town in a Northern Premier League fixture.
20 years on, Sunderland and Fleetwood found themselves competing in the same league and in the previous three meetings, the lads had failed to record a victory over Joey Barton’s side.
In February 2020, Sunderland went into their encounter with the Captain Pugwash-playing band of merry men in great form.
After an appalling start to life on Wearside, Phil Parkinson had got the lads playing some good football and had recorded 9 wins out of the last 12 games, losing just once in that time.
In typical Sunderland style though, the feel good factor didn’t last long and the visitors took the lead after five minutes through Barrie Mackay.
The lads huffed and puffed throughout but a combination of a lack of quality in the final third and Fleetwood attempting to secure a slot in the Guinness World Book of Records for most time wasted, meant that Sunderland were unable to break down their rearguard action.
Chris Maguire hit the bar in the first half, before Gooch fired just wired in the second period. And despite dominating possession, it looked like it was going to be a frustrating night for the hosts even as the referee announced there was to be seven minutes added time.
As is customary late on in games, Sunderland started to pump a series of long balls in the general direction of the Fleetwood goal and after a bit of pinball in the area, Duncan Watmore showed a rare bit of composure to tee up Max Power who managed to divert the ball into the bottom corner and send the Stadium of Light into raptures.
Ultimately, the goal would prove meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but the few minutes from the ball hitting the back of the net to leaving the stadium felt extremely life-affirming.
My dad missed the game due to work, so I took my sister to the match who, until a few years previously, had shown no interest in football.
But when she moved to Uni in 2016, she went to Liverpool and Everton away, and despite seeing us lose 2-0 on both occasions, she got ‘the bug’ to a certain extent and when Power’s strike nestled in the corner I knew she was a bona fide massive lads fan.
Rather than cheering for a bit before looking at me with a tone of mild disapproval at my over the top celebrations, she was jumping all over the place and hugging random strangers while hurling obscenities in the direction of the away dugout.
Moments later the Roker End started a chorus of ‘when Joey Barton dies, we’ll all be having a party’, and she joined in with equal enthusiasm.
As pathetic as the chant probably is, I feel that an exception should be made for Mr Barton and at that moment I found myself bursting with an amount of pride almost equal to when I saw my sister graduate University with a 2:1.
Hopefully, Saturday is a much more civilised affair and the lads get another win on the path to automatic promotion.