Sunderland AFC: After years of misery and pain, we finally have our football club back

After a difficult four year absence, Sunderland are one step closer in their journey back to the Premier League.

April 2017 was when Sunderland finally dropped down to the Championship after years of flirting with relegation.

A 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth confirmed our place in the Championship and I was brought to tears by our impending doom.

Our relegation had long been coming, but for the fans it wasn’t just something that just happens in football, it was knowing that our downfall certainly wouldn’t stop there.

The following season was easily the worst during my time supporting Sunderland and a year after our relegation to the second tier, we dropped even further down the hierarchy after finishing rock bottom of the Championship and claiming only seven wins all season - a relegation that I was numb too due to my lack of love for the club at that point.

Four years and two play-off failure later and I was sat on the tube heading to Trafalgar Square ahead of Saturday’s all important finale at Wembley Stadium.

I was yet to feel any nerves about the match and it appeared many fans were in a similar mindset, because for once we were full of confidence heading into a game that could change everything for our club.

Alex Neil’s arrival in February was met with uncertainty after we had missed out on our first choice in Roy Keane, however the former Preston North End boss has since transformed our defence into a brick wall and completely changed the dynamic around the club. From a team and a fanbase made up of nerves and pessimism, we almost felt unstoppable heading into the Play-Off Final.

After a night of drinking, singing and admiring one of the best groups of supporters in England, the big day finally arrived.

I still hadn’t considered how I would feel if we were to lose to Wycombe, that was until I emerged from the tunnel and reached my seat to look out onto the all familiar Wembley pitch and some painful memories came flooding back.

I instantly recalled how I felt when Patrick Bauer scored the 94th minute winner for Charlton Athletic three years prior or when Lee Cattermole missed his penalty against Portsmouth in the Checkatrade Trophy Final.

As soon as I took my seat I became petrified. This 90 minutes meant everything to me, everything to the 46,000 fans in the stadium and everything to the remaining support watching in the pub or on their TV.

It’s definitely not something I say often about Sunderland, but as soon as the match kicked off and we actually played well, I felt completely at ease. Alex Pritchard clutched at my heartstrings very early on when his free-kick skimmed the side netting to send half of the west stand into hysterics, before realising we would have to wait a little longer for Elliot Embleton to take the lead.

Wembley Stadium lit up when the Durham-born midfielder ran from his own half to power the ball beyond David Stockdale. Once I had stopped celebrating, with the roar of the crowd’s cheer still ringing in my ears, I set myself up for disappointment - because surely Sunderland would just do a Sunderland, right?

Wrong.

I have never felt emotion like I did when Ross Stewart slotted the ball home to give us a two goal lead.

Everything else seemed to disappear but the noise of the fans screaming with delight, as my boyfriend and I hugged the man sat next to us and I cried with utter joy.

The full time whistle went and it was like we had scored a third as the west stand once again erupted and my tears returned for a second time - though they had been creeping out for the 15 minutes previous too.

This is it, I thought. This is what it feels like to be on the winning side.

We had won at Wembley Stadium and, after four horrible years, we were finally returning to the Championship. It didn’t feel real and it honestly still doesn’t.

Lynden Gooch was crying, the supporters were belting out Wonderwall and Alex Neil looked like a proud father. I wasn’t actually sure I had seen him crack a smile in the three months he had been on Wearside till then.

I wanted to stay in that stadium with those fans forever, because there was no better feeling and it wasn’t just a return to the second tier for us, it was the end of an era and a goodbye to the worst period in Sunderland’s history.

Supporting Sunderland has been so unbelievably painful and I have often questioned my parents as to why they couldn’t have moved somewhere else before I was born, but of course, no matter how much I complain about this club, I would never have it any other way.

We have been through some horrific times together and at times I never thought it would end, but this fanbase are one of the very best and deserve the happiness and the celebrations that came after Saturday’s win - celebrations that will no doubt continue right up until the first day of the 2022/23 season.

A good summer of recruitment and we will be ready to make our mark in the Championship and with Alex Neil at the helm, I have no doubt we can get back to where we belong.

Ha’way the lads.