The season itself wasn’t great. A 14th place finish in a season which saw Sunderland earn 38 points, but go 9 games without a win. Paolo Di Canio, the less said the better, was sacked in late September 2013 and Gus Poyet appointed in October. From there Sunderland seemed to stabilise themselves and survive comfortably, kind of. Bearing in mind the relegated team in 18th, Norwich City, finished the season with 33 points.
The final against Manchester City was more of a “big day out” for Sunderland fans because I think no fan realistically expected us to win. It was more “be proud that we made it” and the game itself kind of reflected that. Borini’s opener let Sunderland fans treasure 45 minutes of football at Wembley but eventually Man City went up the gears and sent us home empty handed. We were still proud. We defied the odds. We beat Manchester United on penalties. We “dared to dream” and now we find ourselves at another final, but it doesn’t quite feel the same does it?
I was one of the unlucky ones who missed the 2014 final because I was at work. Now I get my chance to make it to the Checkatrade Trophy final. I am so excited. However, now I have had time to digest it and gather my child-at-Christmas thoughts, I’ve realised that this is more than just a cup final for both teams.
Portsmouth have spent the last 8 or 9 years trying to recover from relegation, bankruptcy and near death of the club. It’s now owned by the former CEO of Disney. So, he is worth a few quid, but he plans to slowly build the club back up by investing wisely and not trying to buy their way back to the top.
Sunderland have a similar story. A fall from grace followed by near financial ruin until Stewart Donald and his consortium came along. I don’t think he has quite the same funds as a former CEO of Disney, but Ellis Short was wasting money left, right and centre and it would’ve only ended in tears. Stewart and co picked up the club at a fraction of the cost it is probably worth due to Shorts’ desperation to abandon it as quickly as possible. Since then Jack Ross has steadied the sinking ship and the club been stripped from the inside out.
It’s not like 2014 when we had some iconic matches or moments that will live long in the memory of fans, Bardsley goal, Ki’s last minute winner against Chelsea. We had the Newcastle game but that was anything but iconic. Man City u23s, which was actually their under 18s, wasn’t up to much either because of the league cup. The game against Bristol Rovers was good but wasn’t iconic.
What makes this final so important? Not the trophy, not the medals or open top bus parade that could happen. It’s the first step of many in letting the world know that we aren’t dead just yet.
Both clubs need this win. Both clubs need this boost. Of course, due to the slight bias I may have as a Sunderland fan, I say we need it more. Sorry Portsmouth fans but you have a billionaire owner who will have some very rich friends. While we are backed by Juan Satori it is still unclear as to what his role at the club actually is other than his 20% stake. Donald has stated multiple times that he has not asked for money from him for the day to day running of the club or transfers.
Black Cats’ fans wounds are still fresh and deep and are in need of something to help heal them. A win at Wembley will be the perfect medicine for not just the fans, but the club as well. It will also serve as a message to the world that we are on our way back. I think it’s also important to start this new ownership and management off right.
This cup final does come with a warning label. Please do not think for a second that winning the final would mean we are back, we would still have a long way to go before we are “back”.
Losing isn’t exactly a backwards step either. Unless we lost 3-0 and were embarrassed, but I think that it’s highly unlikely. It isn’t the end of the world if it meant getting promoted instead then it’s a worthy sacrifice. It’s all going to be a bit circumstantial on the day. Bear in mind we will have 2 league games in hand, again, so it may be something we look back on at the end of the season as a boost or a hinderance.
What I think all supporters can agree on is that this season has been fantastic so far and hears to hoping that things can only get better (presses play on metaphorical stereo and D:Ream starts blasting).
Get me to Wembley for some cheesy chips! Ha’way the lads!