ALL Sunderland supporters (barring those of the most minimal age), share with me the dubious honour of having survived two of the most disastrous campaigns of ANY club in the history of English football.
To have endured one might be regarded as a misfortune, but two?
And in the space of just four seasons?
The Black Cats notched just 19 points when they were catastrophically relegated from the top flight in 2002-03 – a Premier League record at the time; and just 15 points when they were relegated in 2005-06 – another Premier League record at the time too!
And I honestly believe that fans of almost every other club out there cannot truly understand how demoralising and traumatic such an experience is to live through for those whose mental well-being is closely tied to the fortunes of their club.
True, Derby County, can claim dibs on the all-time Premier League belly-up campaign – recording just 11 points in the 2007-08 season. But, in Sunderland’s case, lightning struck twice.
And while closer to home both Newcastle United and Middlesbrough have gone down in recent years, neither has suffered the sort of Death Eater seasons that Sunderland have in the recent past.
The incessant, seemingly never-ending treadmill of defeat and disappointment truly can stunt and suck the soul out of a club, which is why Sunderland’s supporters’ stoic resistance these days is so truly admirable.
And it is not just the relegations either.
In their 11 full seasons so far in the Premier League, Sunderland have finished in the top 10 three times but far too often seen their team either struggling to survive or being relegated over the course of month after month of stodgy, uninspired results and performances.
None of the 46 clubs to have gained membership of the Premier League have conceded more goals in it than Sunderland. Not even close.
The Black Cats’ all-time Premier League goal difference currently stands at -215.
Next closest? West Ham on -171 then Bolton on -170.
Middlesbrough have -120. Newcastle are +87.
If you’d been to every one of those Sunderland games, it means that for all the goals you celebrated, there were 215 MORE occasions when your spirits sank.
TWO HUNDRED. AND FIFTEEN.
And yet, despite that, despite ALL that, still those Sunderland supporters come to the Stadium of Light in their multitudes: game after game after game; month after month after month; season after season after season.
For Sunderland to be currently averaging home gates of more than 40,000 heading into a Christmas in which only EIGHT points have been taken from 15 games is one of the more staggering statistics in the English game and – one hopes – it is something which is fully appreciated and respected at the highest level in the corridors of power at Sunderland Football Club.
It is a remarkable achievement.
And so this week the Friday Spotlight falls upon: the fans.
The poor, distracted Sunderland fans currently toiling at work or toiling through The Bridges and The Galleries and the streets of Durham on that thankless Christmas shopping slog – making ends meet and still finding the money to go to the match, or making sure they hear about it, or read about it if they can’t afford to go.
Those fans working out how they can get to, or how many they can get to, of the nine games in 31 days which is the reality of the mad schedule we currently find ourselves in.
To those fans who still bear the scars and callouses of those grimmest of relegations and hope against hope that it won’t be repeated for the third time in barely a decade.
Their fortitude and faith deserves so much more.
Of course, none of the current Sunderland squad were around for either of those previous relegations.
But it is important right now that they seek to empathise with the plight of the most loyal and long-suffering of supporters; fans who are suffering afresh right now.
And those Sunderland players, who go into crucial games against West Ham tomorrow and Norwich City next week, must draw on an understanding of the pain their supporters are going through.
They must use it to inspire themselves to new heights of performances – to find deeper reseves of energy, greater wells of determination and a refreshed desire to turn this season around.
It has been a pretty bleak, miserable 2013 overall for Sunderland fans.
The players must at least spare nothing in a bid to give them a happier Christmas.