Passing American tourists, with no knowledge of “soccer”, were enthralled by the hordes in Trafalgar Square last Friday; once they realised that it sounded considerably more intimidating than it actually was.
Metropolitan Police confirmed they were not “aware of any significant issues” at the knees-up. The Daily Mail was reduced to claims of fans “stripping naked”, with a picture of one bloke in his drawers (ie. not naked) to “prove” it.
The national press would have loved a spot of violence, which they didn’t get. What they got was a big, boisterous, colourful, friendly celebration drawing positive attention to the city of Sunderland. It was, to employ a cliché, electrifying.
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What were they celebrating; considering the game hadn’t even been played at that point?
Really, they were just enjoying themselves. But if they were celebrating anything, it was all things Sunderland: club and city. Why not (cue moaning and sneering from the usual dullards)?
Steam was let off. But an even bigger release came the next day when their team gained promotion.
I don’t recall being so emotional at a football match. I’m rarely emotional anywhere. Yet partly for personal reasons, which will remain personal, it became too much and I departed Wembley before the trophy was lifted.
Unlike last year’s Wembley win, in a meaningless competition behind closed doors, this mattered.
So hope was harvested, but winning a third-tier play-off is hardly a sporting peak. And there remains much amiss at SAFC, who are often opaque, uncommunicative and not wealthy. Next season could bring more struggle on the pitch.
However, last weekend was a glimpse of what could be. Eventually. It was something difficult to define and impossible to deliberately engineer.
Football has much wrong with it. The World Cup in Qatar is already shameful. Regarding the ownership of certain clubs around Europe, it’s hard to imagine the game sinking any lower.
But Wembley last Saturday, with Trafalgar Square beforehand, showed that the game can still be great. So too were the people of Sunderland. In its own way it was a spectacular display of civic pride.