There’s a regular crowd who frequent Under-21 fixtures to cast their gaze over the next generation.
Backroom staff, parents and lower league scouts (of which there are usually a lot) take in this band of young hopefuls, vying to buck the trend and bridge the seismic gap between U21 football and the Premier League.
Sunderland’s first-teamers are sporadically seen at these encounters, but they are lesser-spotted specimens.
Yann M’Vila has taken in the last two games though.
In part, that is because Mikael Mandron is leading the line for the U21s; one of the few French speakers in Sunderland’s squad who can communicate with M’Vila, whose English remains at the pidgin level.
But perhaps, just perhaps, M’Vila is beginning to catch the bug.
The midfielder was genuinely in awe of the ferocity of the atmosphere in the Wear-Tyne derby, rating it as the best he has played in during his career, including the local tussle between the two Milan clubs.
“It was magnificent. It was the best match that I’ve ever played in,” he said earlier this week.
As he cradled the man of the match trophy in the Stadium of Light afterwards, M’Vila had evidently thrived in that cauldron of intensity; growing as the game wore on after both the French international and Lee Cattermole had struggled to gain a foothold early on.
M’Vila has without question been the pick of Sunderland’s summer recruits.
The 25-year-old may have gone seven months without kicking a ball competitively before he arrived on Wearside, but it took minimal fuss to knock off the rust and then hit his stride, despite the failings of those around him.
Sunderland are only paying a minority of M’Vila’s big, big wages at Ruben Kazan during his season-long loan too.
Regardless of what the future holds for Lee Congerton – with even staff at the Academy of Light still in the dark over the director of football’s position – he pulled off a real transfer coup in giving M’Vila a chance to get his career back on track after a series of off-the-field troubles on the Continent.
M’Vila’s impact has been so significant that the ex-Rennes man’s long-term future is already a discussion point among Sunderland supporters.
Let’s face it, this is a player of such evident quality that he should be battling for a team at the top of the table, rather than the bottom.
It seems ludicrously hasty to be even contemplating signing M’Vila on a permanent basis, when relegation would render all such considerations redundant. Sunderland require another eight or nine victories to beat the drop, and it took them 10 games to even get one.
But if Sam Allardyce can mastermind yet another act of escapology, then surely M’Vila’s future would be top of Sunderland’s agenda next summer.
Thankfully, Sunderland would have a head start in converting a loan deal into a permanent switch after repeatedly facing a brick wall in that scenario over recent seasons with the likes of Fabio Borini, Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck and Danny Rose.
There was a pointed inclusion of publicly stressing the permanent clause in M’Vila’s loan, when the club confirmed his signing during the summer.
Kazan wouldn’t harbour second thoughts over removing M’Vila completely from the books either after a number of fall-outs with the Russian club, prior to his departure.
But that doesn’t necessarily make a transfer a foregone conclusion.
M’Vila would have to agree personal terms, which would almost certainly involve a hefty wage drop.
And if he continues to perform as he done so far this season, will any of the Premier League’s heavyweights, financially bloated by the new TV deal, look to buy-out Sunderland’s clause with a too-good-to-refuse offer?
Liverpool and Arsenal were both on M’Vila’s trail during his formative days at Rennes, before his career went off the rails.
M’Vila is clearly enjoying his football again though and that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Some players need to be the biggest lion in the pack, rather than just being one of a number of predators. They thrive on the responsibility which stems from being the team’s stand-out performer.
Maybe after two or three years when the French press were on his back and his employers had grown exasperated, he needs to be loved again.
If M’Vila stays on Wearside for the long-term, then there is little doubt that he will continue to receive that adoration.