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Sunderland AFC play-off final win would be worth ‘millions of pounds over the season’

Sunderland AFC play-off final win would be worth ‘millions of pounds over the season’

By Kevin Clark
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 4:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 4:35 pm

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That’s the message from city council leader Coun Graeme Miller after the Black Cats secured a place in next weekend’s Wembley final with a 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday last night.

With Alex Neil’s side taking a 1-0 lead to Hillsborough after Friday’s first leg, a Patrick Walker strike in added-on time was enough to secure a 2-1 aggregate win and set up a face-off against Wycombe Wanderers.

Coun Miller said he was delighted with the result and all that remained was to finish the job.

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“It was a great feeling – now we just need to get through the final,” he said.

He was taking nothing for granted: "This is Sunderland – it is a labour of love. We’ve not got a great record in the play-offs but there are only two teams in it now.

“If you had said to me ten days ago that we would have got through to the final, I would not have been confident.”

Promotion would be a huge boost for the city, he added: “Getting back into the Championship means we will have bigger crowds because the clubs are bigger and they bring more support. That is worth millions of pounds over the season in inward spending.

Civic and business leaders have been having their say on last night's win

“It is very important to get back into the Championship, to stay there and then build to get back into the Premier League – because we do belong in the Premier League.”

Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott said she was still catching her breath.

“What a match - a last minute winner to send us to Wembley. I can’t wait for the final,” she said.

"We always have a great day out at Wembley. Sunderland is a great football city, and we have the best fans in the country.

City Council Leader Coun Graeme Miller.

"One more push.”

Business leaders said the result was a major boost to the city’s feelgood factor. Sunderland Bid chief executive Sharon Appleby described it as ‘absolutely fantastic news for the team and the city’.

"There’s a real sense of excitement and positivity everywhere,” she said.

“It has created a real buzz everywhere and that’s good for everyone. Their continued success coupled with the exciting events happening across Sunderland this summer means that we will all have lots to celebrate.”

Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott

Easington MP Grahame Morris is a Stadium of Light season ticket holder and all too familiar with disappointment at the national stadium.

“The playoffs are a roller coast of emotions from despair, and anxiety to jubilation,” he said.

“I hope we can finally break our playoff curse and return to the Championship after too long in League One.

“Sunderland is a sleeping giant, we have amazing fans, fantastic infrastructure and we are building a team under the leadership of Alex Neil that I am confident will deliver success for Sunderland.

“The whole city is behind Alex Neil’s Red White Army as he leads the lads out at Wembley."

City Lib Dem leader Niall Hodson watched the game in a pub in Liverpool and admitted he had been on tenterhooks.

Sharon Appleby

"They kept me concerned for the full duration of the match,” he said.

"It is absolutely fantastic – everyone knows the lifeblood of the city is its football team. It is really important for the people of the city and for business.

“It would be a huge thing to get back to the Championship and get through this very difficult period in the club’s history.”

Coun Hodson said he had been pleased with the outpouring of best wishes from fans of other teams: “One of the things it is good to see is there is such good will out there for Sunderland.”

Natasha McDonough, chair of the North East England Chamber of Commerce’s Sunderland committee, is facing a family dilemma after last night.

“We had a ten-year-old going to bed singing ‘Red and White Army’ and we have spent the morning working out who is going, how we are going to get there and how we are going to afford it,” she said.

"It is great for the city – hospitality businesses will be putting on events with so many people wanting to come out and spend.

“The feeling in the city is wonderful but for me, it is all about future generations.

"This is about kids in Sunderland wanting to buy the shirt, wanting to support city’s club, kids who might have been thinking about supporting other clubs are starting to think about their own club again.”

Lifelong Sunderland supporter and St Michael’s Conservative councillor Michael Dixon is convinced the mood among fans for the final will be one of quiet confidence: “When your team concedes so few goals and scores late in the game week after week, it gives you belief that anything is possible,” he said.

"It is happening too often to be a fluke and, slowly but surely, our understandable pessimism, after the events of recent years and past play offs, is being replaced by a much more hopeful outlook. I am really looking forward to the game and there will be great atmosphere. ”

Coun Dixon added: “Manager Alex Neil deserves a great deal of credit for this turnaround.

"I saw him play in midfield for Hamilton Academical in Scotland many years ago and his Sunderland team are a reflection of himself; well organised, no frills, never gives up and frightened of no-one.”

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Easington MP Grahame Morris.
Coun Niall Hodson
Natasha McDonough
Coun Michael Dixon