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Opinion

Any Newcastle United fans going soft on Sunderland – Just remember this banner

5 months ago
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It is confirmed – Sunderland have once again earned our admiration and heartfelt congratulations.

Yes, for just the second time since 2016 they’ve achieved what their supporters had begun to think wasn’t possible: they’ve avoided relegation.

Isn’t it funny to think, it’s just four years since some comic geniuses from the dark place paid to send their mocking message on the back of a light aircraft up above St James Park to celebrate their fourth-from-bottom Premier League finish?

Looking back now, maybe that day was a turning point. We smashed Spurs 5-1 in a game better remembered for convincing everyone that Rafa would maybe just stay – including the Spaniard himself.

On that very same day, Sunderland got an uninspiring 2-2 draw at Watford, and over the following 12 months that was about as good as life got for our friends from down the road.

I often wonder what those responsible for that banner thought a year later when, along with Middlesbrough, we crossed paths as they went down and we bounced back at the first attempt.

Then we had a summer of Sunderland getting their excuses in early as they rolled out all the clichés to protect against the risk they may not emulate our Championship success of the previous season.

“The Championship is the hardest division in the world to get out of, you know?” Funny that, because according to my memory we’ve won the division the last three seasons we’ve been in it.

They shouldn’t have concerned themselves. Like Rafa’s Boys before them, it only took Sunderland a year to find their way out of the Championship.

And courtesy of Netflix, we got to relive all the best moments of their hilarious demise in a docu-drama that will forever live in the hearts of Newcastle supporters as pure comedy gold.

Then came the 2018/19 season.

Only the cruellest of script writers could have sent them to Wembley finals twice within a matter of weeks, only to snatch it away. For added irony, they could have made them relive play-off heartbreak against Charlton in the final to stir up tough memories of a blubbering Michael Gray for the weariest of Wearsiders.

Oh hang on! They did! Surely even Clive Mendonca took a break from the Nissan production line to afford himself a chuckle at that one.

And now they’ve got another season in the lower echelons of league football to look forward to, the EFL’s points per game system having secured Sunderland a less-than-impressive eighth place finish.

That’s their worst ever final league position.

Depending on how Joey Barton’s Fleetwood get on in the play-offs, the Stadium of Plight regulars may well have another season of being mercilessly ridiculed in the press by one of our ex-players to look forward to as well.

Now I’m not about to pretend our last few years have exactly been awe-inspiring stuff.

Some of the football has been dull, the incomings have been far from the standard we’d like, and the general malcontent brought about by more than a decade of Ashley’s ownership has made supporting Newcastle United pretty painful at times.

But like a star shining bright bringing an almost guaranteed silver lining to our current situation, Sunderland have been there in the background in recent years: struggling, slipping from low to unthinkable low, and losing football matches.

Yet what is that I occasionally hear from fellow Mags? “I miss the derbies, it would be nice to have them back.”

Well I’m not having a bit of it.

I admit I’d like to play them, particularly cos I’d actually fancy our chances of giving them a heavy beating. And we owe them that after the way they over-celebrated their first team defeating our Under 14s in the Michael Mouse Cup last year.

But I can still see that banner, flying high above St James Park.

I can still see the social media posts ridiculing us after their win over Everton sent us down.

For all the same reasons, I’m not ready to forgive Aston Villa for their pathetic messiah placard back in 2009, nor am I ready to forgive Sunderland’s supporters for how they revelled in May 2016.

One day I’ll be ready for them to return. One day I’ll be content for them to share the Premier League stage with us, on the strict proviso that they finish fourth bottom and hand us six points a season.

One day I’ll be happy for them to exist in that sort of perpetual purgatory.

But not yet. It’s too soon to end their nightmare.

So for anyone having those weak moments when you kid yourselves that it’s nice to see all the north east teams do well, let me remind you what I set out at the start of this article: It’s only been four years since that banner.

And that’s not long enough for me.

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