THOSE who have read this column from its embryonic beginnings, almost four years ago now, will have gone on a journey with me.
I started out as a bright-eyed fan, optimistic to a fault. Now I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum. A bitter, battle-weary cynic who is struggling to eke any positives out of the season.
Sunderland are one point away from enjoying, as Steve Bruce says: “their third-best top-flight finish in 55 years.”
Now there’s something to celebrate, eh? Get the open-topped bus out. Steve Bruce has spent £60million in 18 months, and he’s almost, just almost outdone the work of Peter Reid. Well done, Steve.
It’s not really something to hang a season on, is it? This team is better than any team assembled by Denis Smith, Reid, Howard Wilkinson, Mick McCarthy, or Roy Keane to name but a few.
But as much as this season has ultimately been a disappointment, there has been some progress. Small steps are being made. At least, for once, those steps are in the right direction.
For the first time in my life, Sunderland will spend a fifth-consecutive season in the top flight next year.
Of course, fans will point to the likes of Stoke and Birmingham City who will both be playing European football next season and ask “why not Sunderland?” – I’ve been the same myself – but the one thing that Sunderland needs now is stability and patience.
One day, they’ll get their day in the sun. In the mean time, there will be the consecutive seasons of underachievement: the hope, the despair; the anticipation, the disappointment.
Speaking of disappointment, I feel for the supporters who bought tickets to West Ham on Sunday thinking there would be something to play for. At £46 a ticket, I can understand why there was a faction of support for the Hammers’ relegation last weekend.
Instead of attending an exciting fixture, their top-dollar tickets are now for a relegation wake.
I can only compare this situation to Michael Jackson’s farewell tour, where thousands queued for tickets to his last shows only for him to croak it two months before curtain call.
Both clubs should just do the honourable thing and call the whole thing off.
A fortnight ago, I suggested that Steve Bruce was Sunderland’s biggest-spending manager of all time. I was wrong. It, actually, was Roy Keane, who spent nigh-on £80m in his two years at the club, as opposed to Bruce, who has ‘only’ spent £60m. I’m happy to correct this, and thank-you to Dave McKenna who pointed this out to me, including a full list of both managers’ incomings and outgoings during their respective tenures. Next time I write an article about finances, I’m ringing Dave first.