ADAM JOHNSON knows how it feels to end a long wait for silverware, but the former Manchester City winger believes the scenes of celebration and jubilation will be just as memorable if Sunderland make history at Wembley tomorrow.
After 41 years of wondering when the next major trophy would arrive, around 40,000 Sunderland fans are expected in London hoping Gustavo Poyet’s men can stun the rest of English football by defeating City in the Capital One Cup final.
If successful it will be the first time a Sunderland team has won one of the three main domestic competitions since Bob Stokoe’s class of 1973 lifted the FA Cup - and the significance of such a feat has been well-drilled in to the players.
Johnson, brought up by a Sunderland supporting family in nearby Easington village, has previously experienced what it is like to be part of a team that has ended a similarly long wait for a trophy, ironically with City.
A little more than a year after moving to Manchester from Middlesbrough at the beginning of 2010, the winger was on the Wembley pitch when Yaya Toure scored the winning goal against Stoke City to win the FA Cup.
That was the first trophy City had won in 35 years and more than 100,000 fans of the Citizens turned out on the streets when they returned to Lancashire to mark the occasion and the players will never forget.
But Johnson thinks the party on Wearside could surpass those if Sunderland can deliver a Capital One Cup winning performance under the Wembley arch tomorrow afternoon.
“Those open top bus days, those are the ones you have to remember,” said Johnson. “The initial two days after winning the cup are just crazy … the fans out on the street and things. I can only imagine what it would be like here in Sunderland if we are able to do that.
“With City, when we beat Manchester United in the semi-final and then Stoke in the final, everyone expected City to win that day and turn over Stoke but it was not as simple as that.
“We were expected to win that game and then there was all that pressure of almost 40 years without a trophy. Now they are expected to win trophies every single year just like that. It was nice to be part of that, a little bit of history for the club.
“When we won, it was more a relief for the fans who had waited so long for it. But a lot of the players were quite new. It was the fans who had been watching the team for 20 years or more and see them struggle. That’s how important winning things is for fans.”
Having been taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group a few years earlier, the FA Cup triumph was merely the starting point for a Manchester City which had been given a complete overhaul after hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment. Trophies were a requirement rather than an aspiration.
But having negotiated meetings with MK Dons, Peterborough United, Southampton, Chelsea and Premier League champions Manchester United to reach the final, fans will be relieved to hear there is no hint that Sunderland’s players are just ready to turn up to enjoy the occasion.
“With City that year we were expected to win. With Sunderland this year we’re not,” said Johnson. “The fans of City want that success every year, without doubt. They’re disappointed if they’re not winning two and three trophies.
“At Sunderland it’s been amazing for us to get to the final full stop after so long. I think the fans are delighted. I’ve seen texts and they’re just delighted to be having a day out at Wembley. On the other hand, the City fans expect this now so it’s different. It’s a different sort of pressure.
“Having been on both sides of it, we’re going there with nothing to lose. We can go and play with freedom and try to win the game. If City don’t win the game it will be a massive failure for them, won’t it?”
Johnson was also at Middlesbrough when they won their first major trophy of a 128-year history in 2004 by winning the Carling Cup, which was the former name of the competition Sunderland are pursuing tomorrow.
He might not have been inside Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium that day, but he did experience the bounce it had on the Teesside club moving forward; recalling how two years later Middlesbrough went on to reach the UEFA Cup final in Eindhoven.
“In the North-East, football is so massive. You are brought up with it living up here,” said Johnson. “I had a ball wherever I went. That was my life, playing football. Everyone up here just loves it.
“At Boro, we got to the UEFA Cup final and qualified for Europe two years in a row on the back of that cup win - and the players we attracted and how much the club was talked about. I think that just shows how massive it is to everyone.
“I was 15 or 16 at the time. I remember the atmosphere on the training ground building up to the final. It was a great day out for everyone including all the lads who went down to watch it.
“Afterwards, the win gave everyone a lift around the whole training ground, not just the first team. It ran down to the young lads as well and fired us to wanting to get there.”
Sunderland will hope Johnson’s latest omission from an England squad does not knock his confidence before facing his former club. Having scored seven goals in seven games before his last two appearances, he will be keen to reproduce his best at Wembley.
Delivering in a cup final could even lead to him having something named after him in the years ahead. Johnson said: “That’s how one moment in a game can change a lifetime. If you score the winner in the last minute, that’s it isn’t it – you can come into the stadium any time you want for however many years.”