The attendances and atmosphere at the Stadium of Light has been very good this season.
Averaging around 30,000 in the third tier of English football is a terrific achievement, but I think most of those regular attendees woke up on Boxing Day excited at the prospect of being joined by another 16,000 friendly faces.
When the ground is full, as it was for our victory over Bradford City, there’s that constant rumble and low hum. The stadium itself feels like a physical entity. It lives.
Reflecting on the day at the game, it felt like this is what we’ve always wanted. We’ve had full stadiums consistently over the last 10 years, in spite of what some would have you believe, but this was different for so many reasons.
Obviously we want to be back in the top flight as soon as possible but the synthetic, soulless elements that accompany Premier League football have evaporated over the course of the last six months.
The ownership have worked very hard to understand what Sunderland are about and how best to nurture that, giving us the best chance to be who we are regardless of the division we’re competing in.
Nearly 1,500 tickets were donated by supporters and redistributed to those who may not be able to afford to attend games regularly. The Lake Poets took to the pitch to perform ‘Shipyards’, a song that has risen to prominence after the release of Sunderland Til I Die and resonated with many. After the game we had Luke O’Nien out on the pitch for a good 20 minutes, enjoying a kickabout with a young supporter.
These events in isolation are terrific but if you want to look more closely at them they take on greater significance.
It was a lifelong goal for Marty Longstaff to play at the SoL, and he’s achieved that. Would that have happened under the previous ownership? A lifelong SAFC fan, Marty will never forget that experience and the club have made that possible.
We’ve had far too many people pass through this club who couldn’t care less. To see Luke O’Nien take the time to make that little lad’s day was special. Let’s not forget that Luke put in a man of the match performance in a position he’s only played in for 180 minutes previously in his whole career.
Instead of moaning about not getting into the side in his preferred position, O’Nien is so desperate to pull the shirt on he’ll put his hand up to do a job for the team. And hasn’t he done the job well? His application and attitude since arriving has been outstanding. He’s shown great character after a tough start and as a result the fans are with him. He typifies the new Sunderland AFC.
While results will not always go to plan, we, alongside the club, can endeavour to make sure we never lose sight of who we are. The club has achieved so much in that respect over the course of the last six months and Bradford City was the culmination of that.
It was a window into the true soul of our football club. Long may it continue.