A trip to Peterlee’s Caterpillar plant served as a reminder to John O’Shea of Sunderland’s vast potential.
It has not always felt that way this season, the team drifting to the bottom of the Championship, investment drying up and fan apathy reflecting the pitfalls of a club operating under a largely absentee owner.
Potential has really been all fans have to hang onto.
The Caterpillar plant is one of the North East’s biggest and most impressive industrial facilities, employing 1,400 workers. It is the single global source of the Articulated Truck, assembled from start to finish on site.
Most of those supporters are Sunderland fans, who met with players yesterday and gave them a taste of their daily lives.
O’Shea, who has played for the club since 2011, was again blown away by the scale of the support.
After another week of speculation regarding the ownership of the club, O’Shea sees a potential bargain for someone.
“If someone were to buy the club, they would soon know when they get in here and witness the stuff behind the scenes and what could be going on, the potential that it has,” said the veteran centre-back.
“Some of the figures I see bandied around for others clubs, I’m thinking someone will be getting a good buy, that’s for sure.”
Like his manager and the club’s support, he is hoping for an early resolution and a chance for Sunderland to progress.
“It’s looking like something needs to change, on and off the pitch.
“Hopefully whatever does happen, happens quickly.
“With things like that, they can fester on. It (selling the club) is not an easy thing to bring about quickly, but it will be better for everyone involved if something happens.
“The worst thing is not being sure.”
Sunderland’s visit came at the beginning of a hectic Easter period that will almost certainly decide their Championship fate.
The Black Cats travel to Derby County on Good Friday before a home fixture against Sheffield Wednesday on Monday.
They then face Leeds United at Elland Road next Saturday.
O’Shea knows the squad can quickly rally the support behind the team should they find some improved form, something reinforced by the time spent with Caterpillar’s workforce.
He said: “It’s a reminder of how big a club it is.
“My dad worked at Waterford Crystal all his life, and that’s a massive factory where I’m from.
“It became a worldwide product too, so it’s very similar to Caterpillar.
“Coming here today reminded me of when I’d go in to see where my dad worked on the factory floor.
“You hear people shouting and some of them giving you a bit of grief and that’s something we have to remind ourselves of.
“When you’ve been at the club as long as I have you’re aware of the responsibility on your shoulders when it comes to the supporters.
“It should be part and parcel of it, knowing the responsibility, but it’s good to reinforce it at places like this.
“I’ve witnessed it all throughout my career – in cup finals, cup runs, when we’ve stayed in the league, all them things. You know the supporters will be there backing us so we have to give them that little bit of hope.
“As a professional footballer, it’s your obligation to give them something back and everyone needs to be winning. It’s the profession we’re in.
“It gives you a bit of a lift when you see the passion people have for our club, not just in workplaces like this but in the away end at Derby on Friday as well.
“We know, particularly when we’re playing at home, the first goal is crucial and that’s something we have to make sure we do.
“It’s difficult when the first goal goes against you.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re staying in the game first and foremost then get that first goal because that’s when the momentum the passion our supporters can give you can swing your way.”
The 36-year-old admits the team’s continued problems have left him feeling ‘sick’, and knows time is running out to find the crucial run of form.
He said: “You have to absorb the defeats, it’s not nice.
“Then you have to quickly go again, analyse it and look for the next game as soon as you can.
“In the Championship, the next game comes around so quickly so you have to move on quickly, but it’s not nice when you’ve been beaten.
“You want to be winning. That’s what we’re in the game for.
“It makes you sick when you lose.
“But we’re clinging to the fact we still have the chance to get on a run.
“It’s in our hands – it’s going to be difficult but it’s in our hands.
“We’ve been able to produce a run in the past, but we haven’t yet this season – we’ve got a win, then lost three.
“We need to get a win, then back it up with a draw, a win.
“The good thing is we have the games to do it, but we haven’t been able to do it all season, so now’s the perfect time to put that right.”