Checkatrade final weekend showcased the best of Sunderland AFC, a city and it's people - and no one will ever forget it

Sunderland AFC supporters at Wembley. Getty Images.Sunderland AFC supporters at Wembley. Getty Images.
Sunderland AFC supporters at Wembley. Getty Images.
It’s not about the defeat, not really.

That will have stung, without doubt.

The feeling had been that it wouldn’t matter that much. It was just about the day, the weekend, the unity, the celebration of a new chapter and a future that once seemed so bleak that now seems so full of hope.

Sunderland AFC supporters at Wembley.Sunderland AFC supporters at Wembley.
Sunderland AFC supporters at Wembley.

And that's exactly how it was, for the most part.

But then you can sense the silverware and the team have played so well, for 45 minutes at least, and it really does matter.

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The atmosphere has been nothing short of sensational. It’s the Checkatrade Trophy but it’s not about that, not really. It’s a sea of red and white and a sea of blue white, two of the biggest clubs in the land, and it really could be the FA Cup final.

It’s a pulsating game, one that draws you in and test your nerves, no matter how much you’d vowed just to enjoy the occasion.

It matters.

So it’s painful to give up hope when the flow of the game had turned so decisively, but when the second goes in and Sunderland are flat, and that is surely that.

Somehow it isn’t, and a goal goes in that will never be forgotten.

That’s just the start of it.

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It’s the agony of penalties at Wembley again and the player who misses is the one that nobody wants to miss.

Then it’s just the unmistakable feeling of anguish, all over again. Aye, that mattered.

It’ll fade though. Just about. It always does. Just about.

What will be left then?

Pride, joy, togetherness.

It’s really something, to come to the capital and only ever really be ten minutes away from a familiar refrain…. ‘And it’s Suuuunderland’.

Old friendships, new friendships. New faces, familiar faces.

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Thousands in Trafalgar Square, thousands more holding red and white scarves aloft at Wembley.

A team roared through Kings Cross station, and a team that appreciates what that means.

It’s only the Checkatrade, but this is surely what it’s all about.

For two years, it was so bad that all you could really do was take pride in it.

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Wear it as a badge of honour. It’s terrible but we’re still here, still keeping the faith.

Sunderland. A synonym for failure, a synonym for incompetence.

Not so much now. This, from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon, was loud and it was proud.

But that second half; a missed opportunity, a sense of regret.

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This team came together amid such uncertainty, such upheaval, and sometimes it really shows. It’s not the first time, not by any stretch, that it’s been like this. Tough to watch, a struggle on the pitch and in the stands.

It can be hard to match that up with the composure, the poise and the genuine flair of the first half.

What is beyond doubt is the heart and the commitment. Even after that barrage of pressure, they found a way to take it to penalties. This was the 50th game of the season. Only four times have they beaten before the whistle was blown at 90 minutes.

Frustration is understandable, but so much of the connection that has been rebuilt is borne out of that last stat.

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The real prize is still there to be won. Nine more cup finals, Sunderland’s fate in their own hands.

And in another sense, it’s already been won.

A weekend to showcase the best of a club, a city and its people.

It’s worth dwelling on that, even if just for a moment.

It mattered.

It’s only the Checkatrade, but no one here will ever forget it.