Tony Gillan: There’s only one highlight of a wasted decade for Sunderland

Back to where it all began. Carlos Edwards scores the winner for Sunderland against Burnley in April 2007.
Back to where it all began. Carlos Edwards scores the winner for Sunderland against Burnley in April 2007.
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Sunderland’s 10-year stretch in the Premier League commenced in April 2007 when a Carlos Edwards winner almost unhooked the Burnley net.

Tony Blair was Prime Minister, the Credit Crunch was yet to strike, non-smoking pub-goers could still be legally poisoned against their wishes, while ITV’s Saturday night was real rubbish back then. Ah, changed days indeed.

Much has happened in the wider world since that night. What about at Sunderland AFC?

One abiding memory is of congregating beneath the Wembley stands at half-time at the 2014 League Cup final.

Sunderland were beating Manchester City and had an impressive record against their excessively extravagant opponents.

No one dared say so at the time, but they had one metaphorical hand on a trophy.

Sadly we all know what happened next. I am also obliged to say that it was only the League Cup.

Nevertheless, for any Sunderland supporter below the age of about 50, the highlight of their years following the club was at approximately 2.50pm on March 2, 2014. Leading 1-0 in a cup final was the best it had ever been.

They might recall better Sunderland sides, specifically in the early 2000s.

But this was the closest the club had come to winning something since 1973 (not counting the 1980 Daily Express Five-a-side Tournament or Programme of the Year).

League Cup finals tend to be quickly forgotten unless your team happens to have contested them.

So for most of the country, the 2014 final is no more than an obscure quiz question.

But that was about the only time anyone outside the North East paid much attention to Sunderland in the past decade. Otherwise, nothing really happened.

Of course I don’t mean that literally. There were a few very good days and every opposing club was beaten at some stage. Fans will long remember a number of cantering wins against Newcastle.

But ultimately Newcastle were only fellow strugglers who have themselves been relegated twice in the last eight years; and occasional wins against the top sides were only short respite.

Truly the biggest achievement since 2007 was the top-half finish (10th out of 20) in 2011.

Ask a random footy fan in a random part of Britain what they know of Sunderland’s recently terminated stint in the top flight and they are likely to allude to the almost constant relegation fight, the extensive list of managers and the appalling PR (ongoing).

What they would struggle to dredge from memory is anything involving the actual football.

I suppose looking at the club’s history since 1958, a ten-year stay in the top division can be regarded as a relative success; even if very little happened.

The huge income of the Premier League is no secret. Yet the main consequence of SAFC’s time there is massive debt. It wasn’t just a wasted decade; it was worse than that.

Still, it takes more than a lifetime of utter misery to stop Sunderland fans from supporting their team.

I for one don’t have enough sense not to look forward to next season.