WMS On Loan – The Heart has Returned to Sunderland

Journalist and podcaster Graham Falk speaks about the change in mood on Wearside as Sunderland settle nicely into life in English football's second tier

Graham Falk, from Sunderland AFC podcast What The Falk? talks about the rebirth of our club in the Championship

If a week is a long time in football, then a year is an absolute lifetime.

Comparing and contrasting the outlook of Sunderland AFC from this time last year to present day is refreshingly therapeutic, isn’t it?

Rewinding back to February last year, I vividly remember being sat in a ruin bar in Budapest, head in hands, realising our big new manager reveal was essentially a blurry photo of Alex Neil at Durham train station and working out which Hungarian monuments would keep me occupied long enough to forget Sunderland’s likely struggle at relegation bound AFC Wimbledon.

God, League One was crap. As someone on Twitter said to me earlier in the week, it ‘did a real number’ on us as a fanbase and it hasn’t been until recently that I realised how much of an absolute slog it was. One last dance, Phil Parkinson, five at the back against Gillingham, Jon McLaughlin retrieving the ball from an empty stand due to lack of ball boys, 100 points, arguing with Charlie Methven on Netflix.

Now if we can press the fast forward button together – and you allow myself a subtle brag – I am in the midst of packing my bags yet again as I take in the sunnier climbs of the Spanish capital Madrid but truth be told, at the time of writing I am in the process of working out if I can convince Ashley that staying in the hotel between the hours 3pm and 5pm on Saturday is actually a great idea because this week I don’t have to pretend to be abroad to use the stream – I literally am. VPN no more. And who wants to go to the Bernabeu anyway? Puerta de Alcalá is probably crap too – and Sunderland are at home.

Those awful four years and everything I mentioned above has been replaced by Amad Diallo’s stunning ability, Patrick Roberts’ glorious footwork, Grandad Tony Mowbray’s total football teens and a genuine belief that our recruitment team have purchased well even if we haven’t really heard or seen the player play – because our trust has been earned.

And don’t worry, I hear you there in the background with your concern over having only one fit striker – and I hear you loud and clear – because I share the exact same concerns. Do I worry things will fall off the wagon when Joffy Gelhardt inevitably gets injured and Pritch has to go upfront again? Yes – yes I do.

But ultimately, I know for a fact I will not be the only one altering his weekend plans in order to be able to take in the game in some way, shape, size or form because – and say it quietly – supporting the Lads feels is the best it has been for near on 15 years and missing any minute of it feels like a wasted opportunity to soak myself in the joy that is supporting Sunderland in 2023. Joy that we are so often deprived of.

Our football club will never be perfect, in football, it never is. In Sunderland’s case, the charm is that it probably never will be and when a football fan’s mood is often dictated by their team’s weekend result or most recent transfer window, it can be very easy to get bogged down in the small stuff. However, when we have moment to reflect, it really does feels like the heart has returned to this magnificent club – and ultimately, that is perhaps the maximum any club can ask for.

Enjoy the ride feels like an ironic statement so very often at SAFC, but for the first time in a while the word enjoy is prominent rather than tongue in cheek.

  • Graham Falk is a engagement executive at JPIMedia, where he works on The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News, Falkirk Herald and Fife Free Press