There’s a reason I wanted to go to this Wembley game so badly …
The last few years have not been kind to Sunderland AFC have they – pretty awkward timing, as well with that Netflix documentary coming out.
One which neutrals might call one of the more entertaining football series out there.
Trust me when I tell you, I’ve seen them all, by the way!
There’s even a Feyenoord one available on Disney Plus.
But in terms of pure entertainment value – depicting a story that’s almost too comical to conceive without it being real – ‘Sunderland ‘Till I Die’ is in a league of its own.
From a Sunderland AFC perspective, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
Just before the first season of the series, they had just fallen into the EFL Championship having been relegated from the Premier League from the season before.
One which most of us saw coming prior to it actually taking place.
So, having lived off borrowed time for such a while, it was reckoned by most that they would bounce straight back up to the Premier League given the strength of depth in their squad and committed spending in the team which ranked them higher than most.
Instead, they properly struggled throughout that first year in the Championship, which endured a tide that even a change in manager wasn’t able to turn.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
They were relegated again the following year.
From the tip of the English football pyramid, Sunderland AFC had now fallen to the depths of League One in the space of two years. A cataclysmic fall for a very big English club, that now didn’t know where they were going to go from here.
The documentary did another series for this year and it looked brighter.
I mean, they were expected to go up to the Premier League, so now they must surely go up to the Championship again, right? Right? Hmm … not really.
For the next three years, a number of ownership and managerial changes kept Sunderland AFC in League One until 2021/22 season where they made their second voyage to the League One Play-Off final at Wembley.
Much like they’ve experienced with important matches against Portsmouth and Charlton in the past, they needed to win this to set up a resurgence up the leagues.
Which took on a slightly greater significance under the backdrop of a newer club ownership setup and an even new managerial shift.
A strange situation where the manager was older than the owner!
With Dreyfus a descendant of a French billionaire, fund availability was clear.
But they’ve been down the road of frivolous spending, and it would pretty much mean nothing without them getting themselves out of League One and into the Championship.
Returning to The Championship as soon as possible was absolutely pivotal to securing (you would think) additional funding for the seasons ahead, under the prospective new ownership.
Doing so in such good fashion a few weeks ago fills them with a lot of confidence.
Both in the manager and in most of the players.
Now, only time will tell to see how well they fare in Sunderland AFC’s new term back in the EFL Championship, but you can bet your bottom dollar that their squad will improve, the pressure will be lessened slightly and they can afford a nicer journey in the second tier than what they’ve had previously in time gone by.
“It’s quite easy not to do well, if that makes any sense. It would have been easier for me to say, ‘I’ll pass this one because I’ll wait for an easier job further down the line’. But I was waiting for something that was really going to intrigue me and test me, and I’ve never been scared of failing. I’ve never been scared of putting myself out there and thinking that I can get it done.”Alex Neil on achieving promotion for Sunderland AFC in 2022 – original source
Staying in League One after another season would’ve left them with a ‘what do we do now, then’ situation – having changed personnel so dramatically to assure their feet.
Now, for the first time in 4 years, they can look up instead of down.
And boy, did they deserve that!