DEFEATED, yet defiant. Mark Tallentire found the faith still strong among the Sunderland supporters at Wembley, despite today’s (Sunday, March 2) Capital One Cup final loss.
DARE to dream.
That’s what they told us.
Didn’t they know? Didn’t they know this is Sunderland – once the envy of all England, now without a major trophy for more than 40 years.
But it’s not just that. If we were unceasingly awful, the pain might lessen.
It’s that we go close. Threaten greatness, then fall agonisingly short. Again and again.
At half time at Wembley today, we were daring to dream again.
The 30,000-plus Mackems that had travelled from across the country and the globe were in full voice, Gus’ guys were 1-0 up and City were struggling – seemingly short on ideas, lacking creativity.
It seemed the Atherton family’s pre-match prediction might come good.
“1-0, Borini,” dad Paul, formerly of Wheatley Hill but long exiled in Doncaster, forecast.
Mum Kate and kids Abi, 14, and Josh, 13, all agreed.
“But to be honest I can’t see us winning,” Paul added, with a sigh perhaps known only too familiar to battle-weary members of the red and white army.
Within ten crazy second half minutes, his fears were realised.
Two world-class goals from Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri and the Black Cats were beaten.
Uncharacteristic profligacy in front of goal from Steven Fletcher followed quickly by a decisive third City strike on the break sealed it.
Perhaps a repeat of 1973’s legendary giant-killing was too much to ask for.
Maybe in the Sky Sports era, when players earn more in a week than most fans make in a lifetime, romance is, if not dead, at least severely ill.
Sunderland’s squad, which itself cost tens of millions, couldn’t quite keep pace with City’s which cost hundreds.
The Black Cats’ multi-millionaire American owner lost out to the Blues’ billionaire Emirati masters.
At the final whistle, many headed for the exits: knowing the long journey home had to be started to be completed.
The post-match atmosphere? Disappointment, yes. But no little pride too.
“It was amazing,” said Linda Fiskan, of Hendon.
“A cracking day out. The fans were fantastic. The game was brilliant. We didn’t deserve to lose 3-1.”
Julie Reay, from Barnes, added: “The lads did us proud just getting to Wembley.
“It’s been a fantastic day, The atmosphere was brilliant.”
Barbara Ledger, of Ashbrooke, agreed.
“They played really well. At half-time I was so pleased.
“I think 3-1 was harsh on us. The lads aquitted themselves very well and played really well on the day.”
Ron Knox, of Sunderland, was impressed with the team’s organisation, particularly during the first-half.
“It was two really quick, well-taken goals that did it for us. We couldn’t get back into the game after that,” he reflected.
Steven Lister, from Chelmsford, Essex, said: “Sunderland played well in the first half but just couldn’t get more goals.
“City just showed moments of class in the second half.”
“We really felt today the players wanted it as much as we did,” said Joss Cowley, of Darlington.
“I’m so proud of them. I just want to cry.”
There were a few tears, undoubtedly.
But even in the depths of defeat, the Sunderland spirit persisted.
“I’ve never been to Wembley before,” said Richard Bailey, of Darlington.
“But I’m certainly looking forward to coming back.”
Next Sunday: an FA Cup quarter-final away at Hull. The lads are just a win away from a very quick return.
Still daring to dream? Always.
Mark’s travel and tickets were provided by National Express.