When I look at the Championship today, it makes me think of the story of the Prodigal Son.
The prodigal son came from a rich family: the one who cashed in his inheritance early, only to blow it all on an ill-thought through series of investments and gambles. The prodigal son finds himself hitting a low, destitute and eating from pigswill troughs to survive.
Family members who felt wronged by him taking his rewards early, urge that he should remain an outcast.
However, the bonds of family eventually prevail, and the prodigal son is welcomed back into the fold, because without the prodigal son, the family cannot truly be complete.
And my word, haven’t Sunderland been prodigal in recent years as they blew their funds on their comedy capers. And how their fans, so long in denial of this behaviour, deserve to be brought to heel and to become outcasts!
“Enjoy Burton!” the Mackems shouted in 2016, and I certainly did, as a great away performance by Nigel Clough’s team at Oakwell this week, left a hapless Sunderland rooted to the bottom of the second tier.
“6 in a row!” they rejoiced in telling us, whilst denying us the chance to put things right by threatening to wink out of existence entirely.
“Why aren’t you walking it?” they ironically asked in February 2017, only finding in October the same year that you can’t take any games for granted in the league with the world’s most lucrative prize.
Sunderland are in a mess after a decade of profligate living. And schadenfreude means that it’s easy to simply laugh at them as they slide towards League one, irrelevance and perhaps even extinction. But to me, Sunderland are now the prodigal son, and until we welcome them back to the fold, the family can never be complete.
We’ve one of the healthiest local football scenes in England, with Whitley Bay, North Shields and South Shields all making their mark nationally and their players moving on and up to better things (good luck Alex Kempster!) Blyth Spartans’ mighty giant killing act broadcast live across the world was the epitome of the north east football family – healthy competition and mutual respect that helps us all get the best out of the game.
When Borussia Dortmund faced liquidation over an unpaid wage bill, Bayern Munchen famously stepped in with a donation because they believed that European football was better for more German top teams, even when it was their deadly rival. I believe that English football, and even the performance of the England team, can only benefit from more north east teams, even when that means saving Sunderland.
The north east is a region that is forged on solidarity, and the great chronicler of north east cultural history Dan Jackson reminds us that our partisan rivalries are a recent confection, with our (great-)grandfathers regularly attending both Sunderland and Newcastle home games. Solidarity tells me that it is time to welcome the prodigal son back to the family, and to start hoping that Sunderland can turn things round and avoid the drop.
The Mackems deserve our pity after eating for so long at the pigswill trough of their incompetent regime.
North east football will never be complete until Sunderland can sort their act out, become a competitive if challenging member of our family, and I am prepared to cheer them on towards that.
You can follow Paul on Twitter @heravalue