Sunderland AFC fans show the best of their club and city in stunning Trafalgar Square takeover

The 193 steps from Covent Garden tube station to ground level had never seemed an easier task.

By Mark Donnelly
Saturday, 30 March, 2019, 22:12

Fuelled by pride, passion - and undoubtedly, a few pints - Sunderland fans descended on the capital set to make their mark once again.

For while much had changed since the Black Cats’ last visit to Wembley in 2014, one thing had not - their vociferous supporters.

Sunderland fans at Trafalgar Sqaure

And it was these fans - over 40,000 of them in total - that showcased everything we know to be great about this city and football club on Saturday evening ahead of their Checkatrade Trophy final bout with Portsmouth.

They began in Covent Garden, filling the streets with noise and colour from moments after the first southbound train rolled into Kings Cross.

As they had done five years previously, Sunderland fans packed the narrow streets and partied the afternoon away - with chants aplenty entertaining locals and tourists alike.

If visitors hadn’t heard of Sunderland before, they certainly had now. And what a first impression it was.

The decibel level raised once owner Stewart Donald joined the party, before the Wearside wave moved through the streets of the capital bound for Trafalgar Square.

And it was here that the Black Cats’ faithful really made their mark, and ensured that London won’t forget their Sunderland invasion any time soon.

Flags, flares and fans saw the landmark become a sea of red and white; smoke and songs filling the air as supporters readied themselves for their cup final date.

Songs, both old and new, were aired. Club heroes such as Gary Rowell and Kevin Phillips honoured in the same breath as a new breed of heroes, such as Luke O’Nien and Will Grigg.

There were supporters in the fountains, on the stairs and across every acre of Trafalgar Square - showcasing the passion that the club and city have become renowned for.

And perhaps there was no better representation of the positive change that has engulfed the Black Cats in recent years than the sight of co-owner Juan Sartori on the stairs of Nelson's Column belting out chant after chant while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with supporters.

For some, some such scenes acted as a cathartic moment - years of frustration fading away amidst a sea of red and white.

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Kev, from Hebburn, was one of those people. Having been a supporter of the club since 1992, he felt a passionate evening such as this was just rewards for what fans have been forced to torment in recent years.

"These fans, they're unreal," he said, basking in the glow of one of several red flares set alight throughout the evening.

"We all like to have a good time, and it's a real community. We're all together and you can't say much more than that.

"I've seen a lot of ups and downs and for the years we've suffered, if we could get silverware out of this trip it would be the culmination of everything that has been worked on in the last year. I'd be over the moon with it.

"I'm hoping for a 2-1 win."

Even those from further afield were left impressed. Marcel, from Seattle in America, found interest in Sunderland through his father-in-law six years ago.

The trip to Wembley will be his first experience of watching the team he has followed closely for over half a decade - and he’s already been blown away by the club’s support.

"I'm super excited," he admitted.

"If this is what real soccer is like, America needs this right now.

"It surpasses more than anything I thought could happen. Everyone knows that Sunderland have avid followers, but this is a whole other level that I didn't expect."

But for those from Sunderland, such scenes were no surprise.

While perhaps not demonstrated in such manners, that pride is evidence every single day from the Black Cats' loyal and devoted support.

And whatever happens on the field this afternoon - win or lose - Sunderland's supporters have already shown the best this city can offer.