When did it bottom out? Cheltenham away. Tuesday February 8th 2022. We travelled down after a 2-1 home defeat to Doncaster Rovers, which is probably a worse result yet this, this, felt so much worse.
Mike Dodds was in charge, aided by former Sunderland striker Michael Proctor, and the performance and result was utterly, completely abominable. We lost 2-1 with the only highlight being another excellent free kick from that man Alex Pritchard, and Sunderland ended the evening in 4th place. While worse was to come in terms of league position, this game stands out.
It stands out because it was one of the best away games I’ve had in years. I travelled down with a good friend of mine, I forget his name on occasion; lets call him Fory Rallow. Train cans, pints in Sheffield, him spending £18 on lunch in Marks & Spencer, the usual laughs and some fine pints in the excellent town of Cheltenham. Recording segments for my “other” podcast during the day (Other podcast you say? Well, if you must – it’s called From The Terraces and … What’s that? Ah you’re not interested), the day was filled with hilarity.
The following day, similarly, a fantastic day. More beers, more laughs, lots of being incredibly stupid and probably making members of the public simply boil with rage. Why was this as bad as it got then? I’ll tell you.
It’s because I literally was past caring about the football. Walking out of the Jonny Rocks Stadium, there was anger, but then so very quickly apathy. I’d mentioned about always having hope, and if you take that away, what’s left? Well, the hope had pretty much gone. Losing to, and no disrespect, Cheltenham Town on a Tuesday night in February – no one has signed up for this. It’s not even funny anymore, I literally am past caring. You’ll know me as the one who always thinks it’s funny, “let’s finish 8th”etc, but even then I’m like, “well this is unacceptable”. On the Cheltenham occasion it was different to be honest. I got some anger out of my system on the Reaction Show, and we moved on.
It dawned on me, “maybe I’m not doing these trips for the football anymore? We’ve just had one of the worst results in our history, and I’m just over it. I don’t care.”
I know it’s never been solely about the football, but suddenly it wasn’t about it at all. I was off to Wimbledon on the Saturday, and again, the match wasn’t even secondary – I’d have happily just not gone.
What changed? Well, Alex Neil started managing the football club. We believed again. I was looking forward to going to the games again, rather than “let’s squeeze one more in, I’m not arsed about kick off”. Let’s not rewrite history, the early days were a grind and tough going, but we had a clear plan and a goal. And I liked him. Fast forward to May, and we all know what happens now. We’ve got the bug back, it’s about the football again and 46,000 people celebrated in unison as we had our day.
We have had worse days than the Cheltenham one, we literally did finish eighth. Everything about that day though, it felt like it literally could not get any worse. It probably did – but it was about to get a hell of a lot better.