WATCH: Ellis Short and Sunderland players show fans how much they mean to them

Fan Martin Bates poses for a picture with members of the Sunderland squad
Fan Martin Bates poses for a picture with members of the Sunderland squad
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Panting with exhaustion and dripping in perspiration, there was only the odd clap from the Sunderland players at the final whistle towards the 100-plus travelling fans watching them in California.

After playing in temperatures in the 90s, with the jet-lag still circling, Dick Advocaat’s men were understandably so spent, that they just wanted to crawl to the shower after both pre-season friendlies in the USA.

But the failure of the side to universally go over to the travelling section and applaud them created a few grumbles among supporters over here.

It’s one of those sporadic, minor grievances on the terraces which should – and will – be put right after the conclusion of the final North American friendly against Toronto.

But let’s look at the bigger picture, ladies and gents.

If there was a question of how much those following Sunderland out here are appreciated, then it has been unanimously answered.

The entire playing squad, Ellis Short, Lee Congerton, Margaret Byrne, Advocaat and every single member of his backroom team attended the club’s fans night at Scallywags bar, in Toronto on Monday night.

There was no grumbling or uncomfortable hiding from Sunderland’s players.

To their credit, they posed for countless pictures, signed autographs and happily chatted to supporters about their trips out here, last season’s escape from relegation, Advocaat’s return and the prospects for the upcoming campaign.

Inevitably, that was easier for some than others.

The likes of John O’Shea, Danny Graham, Seb Larsson and Lee Cattermole were predictably more at ease in such situations than some of the overseas contingent or the new signings.

Short, himself, appeared as content as anyone; spending hours ceaselessly talking to supporters. It’s one of the parts of the job that he enjoys most.

But Sunderland deserve a pat on the back for recognising the efforts – and investment, don’t forget – that supporters have made to be over here.

When the club have previously held similar evening during pre-season tours, the odd member of the board has turned up, but rarely anyone from the actual dressing room.

By giving the thumbs up for his squad to spend just an hour or so in the company of the paying public though, Advocaat helps to maintain that bond between players and supporters which is imperative at a club like Sunderland.

There was a child-like glint in the eye of fans who had spent 30-40 years watching Sunderland, as they approached Advocaat to shake his hand, or asked Short if he would sign their shirts.

But that was nothing compared to the ecstasy of those Sunderland fans based in North America.

There’s a dozen or so here in Toronto of a red and white persuasion; predominantly due to family reasons.

Speaking with Martin Bates, the Toronto representative of the Sunderland North American Supporters Association, he was overcome by the sight of these players who he watches on television every Saturday coming into his own backyard.

“To quote a line from Dirty Dancing, ‘I had the time of my life’,” he said afterwards.

When the scrutiny which accompanies Premier League existence is on the mute button temporarily, these are the kind of evenings which can really make their mark.