Inside Roker Park sat a five-year-old attending his first football game with his old man, adorned in the colours of the club that he grew to love. That’s when the Sunderland love affair began.
I blame my dad for all the heartache this club have caused me over the last 21 years. And I make sure I tell him at every game, just in case he forgets. It’s because of him that if you asked what I did last week I’d struggle to tell you.
But if asked about the play-off semi-final 2nd leg against Crystal Palace in 2004, I can give you such meticulous detail to the game, you would feel like you were there, watching Jeff
Whitley take one of the worst penalties in the history of football.
That is not a game he remembers, though it’s not for the want of trying.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago, and although his mind continues to diminish, his love for Sunderland stands the test of time.
He can’t name the current players, (apart from Billy Jones for reasons unknown), but he is there every home game, wearing his replica shirts, predicting the same score line (1-0
Sunderland), and celebrating in the same way.
He’ll every now and then remember fondly the games he’s been to, and the players he’s seen grace the red and white shirt. It’s as if when he sits in that seat, the Alzheimer’s disappears, and it’s just a man loving and supporting his Sunderland, through thin and thinner.
Engraved on the reconditioned Roker Park seat sitting proudly in his flat are the words “Love and tears for 25 years – it’s in the blood”.
Those words resonate with me now more than ever.
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