Sunderland fans descend on London as Wembley weekend prepares for kick-off

Sunderland fans are travelling down to London in their droves - but not everyone heading to Kings Cross train station is aware of Sunday's Checkatrade Trophy final.

By Joe Nicholson
Saturday, 30 March, 2019, 14:43

"Is there a game on?" asks one woman with an American accent after boarding a Grand Central train at York, completely unaware of the red and white monsoon which is descending on the capital.

For others, their journeys to Wembley started in the early hours of Saturday morning, standing in queues which stretched all the way into Sunderland town centre, just to secure a spot on the earliest train possible.

Sunderland fans head to Wembley for Sunday's Checkatrade Trophy final.

"It was an early start," says John Belmont, one of the many Sunderland supporters who are packed onto the 8:44 service from Wearside.

"I was up a half past three because I couldn't sleep last night, this is the fifth time we've been to Wembley to watch the lads."

John and his friend Neil are two of few on the carriage who have seen Sunderland win at the national stadium, following the Black Cats' FA Cup victory over Leeds in 1973.

"This is our 55th year of coming to games, we've had more disappointments than anything else."

They aren't the only ones who have stuck by Sunderland through difficult times, which have seen the Black Cats suffer back-to-back relegations to League One.

That is the reason Sunderland are in this position, playing in a competition which only accommodates senior sides from the third and fourth tiers of English football.

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Still, Sunday's meeting with Portsmouth in front of over 80,000 fans is an occasion Sunderland fans can enjoy - a reward for the recent years of disappointment.

"The season has been fantastic, not just for the club and the supporters but also for the city," says Judith Hood, who works for the club's voluntary association. "We just need to keep the momentum going."

"It's great to see everybody in such a cheery mood and not in the doldrums like we have been in the past five or six years."

With thousands set to visit Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden on Saturday night, many fans are already in party mode, cracking open their cans which have been stashed away for the journey.

"We're heading into Trafalgar tonight," says Bob Holnes, who is lucky enough to have a reserved seat. "Lots of singing, drinking and then off to the match tomorrow."

Further down the train, among the sea of red and white shirts, from retro kits the the latest edition, fans are cramped in corridors, boxed in corners and squeezing to get past one another from carriage to carriage.

The journey lasts just over four hours, yet the Wearside contingent don't seem to care.

This is a weekend for Sunderland fans to enjoy - a chance to look forward rather than at their recent and underwhelming past.