The new season became all the more real for me last week with Sky Sports’ announcement of the first batch of televised live games in the Premier League.
When Sunderland kick off at Leicester on August 8, I’ll be readying myself to watch the champions Chelsea start their defence at Stamford Bridge against Swansea in the evening kick off.
At Sky, we will show every team live before the end of September, but there seemed to be a considerable gnashing of teeth among Sunderland fans that they’ve been picked only once, and that on the same day as the Great North Run.
I understand those frustrations (in my ideal world, Sunderland will play on Sundays so I could actually see a few more games live), the scheduling seems far from ideal, and there will no doubt be some logistic hurdles to overcome on that day, but I also remember running the Great North Run some years ago, then dashing straight to the Stadium of Light, arriving just in time to see Sunderland beat Stoke 3-0!
Let’s hope history repeats itself in September when Spurs visit.
So why chosen only once? Well I’m not part of the selection team at Sky and the secrets of that particular committee are well guarded, such a strategic process it has become. But I could hazard a guess.
My feeling is the perception of Sunderland beyond Wearside is not terribly flattering.
Let’s be honest, the last few seasons have been dire and bar derbies, and the occasional upset that we’ve provided against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, there hasn’t been much entertainment for neutrals watching our team.
It wasn’t always like this.
When we burst into the Premier League with Peter Reid at the helm, Sky couldn’t get enough of us.
A visit to the Stadium of Light was a guarantee of exciting, swashbuckling football and a feverish atmosphere.
It was the same at away games where a noisy full away end was par for the course (it still is, but sadly the football has been less exciting.)
For Sky that meant good viewing figures, which in turn drives higher advertising revenues, and the circle repeats.
There is a feeling now that unless you’re a Sunderland fan you’re not really too bothered about watching Sunderland.
But this feels like a fresh start for our club.
Something tells me this year we will be spared the annual scrap for survival.
The new manager will have had the benefit of a full pre-season behind him and with a bit of luck some extra quality at his disposal.
It’s up to Sunderland to show the Premier League they are worth watching and as soon as they do, the TV cameras will be back with much more frequency, whether you like it or not.
Much has happened behind the scenes at Sunderland in the space of a week.
After all the speculation, Sebastian Coates move from Liverpool was completed and a favourable deal it looks too.
His performance at Arsenal when Sunderland needed a point to survive was nothing short of exceptional; let’s hope that’s the standard he sets moving forward.
Adam Matthews too looks a shrewd buy at that price and my scouts in Scotland tell me there are plenty more bargains to be had at Celtic Park, not least Norwegian midfield player Stefan Johansen ... watch this space.
I would also welcome the arrival of Stewart Downing from West Ham.
Arguably he possesses less natural ability than Adam Johnson, but unlike Johnson you could never argue that Downing hasn’t made the most of his talent.
Downing has played 374 games in the Premier League, almost 150 more than Johnson, and offers a guarantee of professionalism and consistency.
He looks certain to leave the Hammers and his next club will be lucky to have him.