As you get older there’s a symmetry to the memories which return without warning and quite often without real explanation.
An old girlfriend perhaps, or that concert from the 1970s, maybe a crazy holiday with mates to Pontins in Blackpool. Snippets you thought were gone: sometimes whole episodes. They just pop back into your head, sharp and cutting as a flick knife.
And of course there’s Sunderland. The old matches, the players, the away trips. Not just the good ones – hell, we’d have few memories at all if we only recalled the victories.
Like the British Army, it’s the valiant defeats that cling with the most potency. We despise Coventry, not because they pipped us for the title with an offside goal. No, we hate them because they doomed us with their 15 minute delay. Raw because it was just yesterday.
Which, through a circular route, brings us to the looming Winter of 2012-13. And, like a drunk who knew the nine steps only really led down to the basement bar, we are once again embracing our old friend relegation.
It’s easier once you admit it. The end of last season, hell, even the awful last months under Bruce, we thought we had grown past that stuff, that we were an established Premier League side and the only thing to get used to was the boredom of March when you’re already floating in mid-table.
Wrong. It isn’t going to be boring. Far from it.
Maybe it is too long for some younger supporters to understand the savage beauty of a relegation battle. No, not the 19-point and 15-point fiascos. That would be like asking if the poor buggers in Hiroshima put up much of a fight.
No, a real fight where you have to cut and scrape for every point, where it comes down to the last game, where other teams’ results are like either a dagger to the heart or a free pint to a thirsty man. Those relegation battles.
Back in 1982 I left England on Friday, May 14. By the time I’d arrived in Edmonton, Canada, we’d played the last game of the season against Man City. As soon as I got change I called my dad. Had we survived? Yes, a 1-0 win with a first-half goal from Mick Buckley kept us in division one.
It demands a different type of mindset from players and supporters once the truth is admitted. The false light of a January transfer market will not make a difference – players won’t come to get into Europe, for heaven’s sake, and they sure as shit won’t come for the sunshine. Come for the money? Always those of course. Not what you need in a dog fight, as QPR have already discovered.
I only hope we hit that point of almost no return where players and fans collectively say screw it..this is what we have and what we have is going to have to be enough. Saw it but didn’t recognise it on a mid-winter’s Friday night in ’77 with a brutal win over Bristol City thanks to a lone goal from the late Mel Holden.
You know – or should do – what happened next.
In didn’t end happily. But happiness isn’t all its cracked up to be. More importantly it ended proudly: a team and supporters as one with memories that will last a lifetime.
Is such bottle among the players of today’s team? More importantly, is it there among the supporters?
Time will tell.
(Our Canadian Correspondent)