Without wanting to come across as a try-hard Bartonesque faux intellectual, I stumbled upon a quote from philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, the other day and it got me thinking.
It went something like this: “In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.”
Applied to football, it suggests most football fans must be masochists who, despite year upon year of barren success, keep coming back regardless of the emotional scars their clubs inflict on them. But as apt as it might seem to some, that’s not the way I see it.
As much as I despise pre-season, I just love the feeling you get in the run-up to the opening game.
This is the best week in football, bar none. I love it so much I’m on the verge of going full Kevin Keegan.
You can keep your title run-ins, your cup finals and relegation battles, because, prior to that first ball being kicked, I’ve already won them all.
This is the only week when every fan in unison can believe in the impossible, no matter the expectations and predictions placed on their club.
When it comes to football, I can be a bit of a romantic at heart and if I shut out some of the harsh realities the game reveals to you over the course of 20 years, I allow my mind to run away with itself, making anything possible.
Otherwise, what’s the point of it all?
Now and again though, I catch myself tempering expectation and have to talk myself round, Don Logan style, in front of the bathroom mirror.
The self-castigation begins, “Why the hell should I hold back? Why can’t we get promoted or win the cup? Who says I have to rein my ambition in? Who are you shouting at? Do you want some? Why are you talking to yourself again, David?”
And on it goes.
The schizophrenic tendencies apart, they’re reasonable questions to ask yourself because if you don’t believe in miracles now, you’re missing one of the true joys football gives us.
At this point, everything and anything can happen and for some clubs it will, so why not ours?
Whether you’re a fan, a player, a manager or owner, the hope that this will be our/your year is one of the reasons we keep coming back, season after season.
It might be the hope that eventually kills us, but it’s also the thing that resurrects us to live again and makes us forget the promise we made to ourselves, never watch that shower of useless idiots ever again.
Season tickets should probably come attached to a bungee cord, especially for those times we say we’ve had enough. The thing is, we never have enough.
Football fans are like boomerangs, it’s only the bad ones that never come back.
The optimism surrounding Dick Advocaat’s handbrake turn has waned slightly, given the difficulty attracting the quality of player needed to break through to the top 10 placing the club’s wage structure warrants.
I’ve asked myself whether he has began to regret letting the emotion of the Arsenal game cloud his judgment in assessing the size of the job at hand, but if I trusted him to keep Sunderland safe last season, I sure as hell believe he would never have undertaken the decision to stay if he thought the team would struggle again.
This is why as Sunderland fans, optimism should be rife.
If someone of Advocaat’s stature and experience believes in better then so should we. This is the manager the club has been crying out for for years and, without naming and denigrating other managers that were linked with the job, I can’t imagine looking forward to this season as much as I am now if any of them were in charge.
We have to trust the manager because Dick trusts himself enough to delay the rest of his life for us.
So, where do I think Sunderland will finish this season?
Well, I’ll tell you by doing something I first did in 2004 when Jimmy Calderwood became manager at Aberdeen and I want everybody else reading this to do the same.
During a pre-season trip to Holland, he gave every player a fixture list and asked us write down a predicted result for every game to give us an idea how everyone thought the season would go and to give him a good idea who the optimists and pessimists in the squad were.
It’s a great tool to use as a squad because, if you look at it in black and white, it places in your mind a tangible goal to work towards.
I’ve done mine for Sunderland this season and I predicted that we’d end up with exactly 50 points, a total which would have seen the club finish equal ninth with Stoke last term.
OK, so it’s hardly what dreams are made of, but at a time when value for money is at a premium for everyone, it’s about time the club started getting theirs too.