When browsing our past results from the beginning of February, one in particular caught my eye and reminiscing brought about some laughter. As an eight year old at the game, the whole atmosphere and the game itself was unique, plus a tad bizarre. However, I hardly think age made the slightest difference.
The game in question is a 3-1 defeat at home to Charlton Athletic on February 1st, 2003 (not this week I know, but you can let me off). At first glances in amongst the fixtures of the 2002/03 season, it was an all too familiar result against a mediocre Charlton side, especially considering we had lost every game from Christmas until the end of the season. The attendees and football historians among us will remember this game for Sunderland scoring three own goals, the only time any team has scored three own goals in the Premier League.
One of the unlucky Sunderland player's that day was Stephen Wright, after Mark Fish’s shot deflected in off his shin in what was a game to forget. Local lad Michael Proctor was then left rather red faced after putting two own goals past Sunderland keeper Thomas Sorensen. All three own goals were scored between the 24th and 31st minutes - seven minutes of bedlam in the Sunderland area, rubbing salt into our psychological wounds.
No matter how damaging to moral the hat trick of own goals were, the Sunderland faithful took a more jovial view at their downfall. It was literally a case of laugh or cry. Mexican waves were part of the remarkable humour shown by Sunderland fans that afternoon. The demoralising months before hand left them with little option but to wallow in self pity, or do it the Mackem way and take humour from our own calamity.
Kevin Phillips' second half penalty gave some consolation to the Sunderland, but the demoralising defeat summed up the season of 2002/03 perfectly - Catastrophic defending, embarrassing defeats, but also undying support from the Mackem faithful. All three were outlined in this particular game, which is still famous for its comedy factor and its historical significance.
With the 2002/03 season in mind and the manager’s theme in the new issue of Seventy3, it left me pondering the contrast of the managerial era we were in at that time and the one we are in now. From humiliating himself in the media and humiliating Sunderland fans and players, the Howard Wilkinson era was disastrous. Things are certainly rosier now under the leadership of Martin O’Neill, and we can look back on this game and season as a whole and be grateful for what we have now. Hopefully, a continuation of our formidable form will obliterate any memories of this and many other sickening seasons, bringing the good times back to Wearside.
It certainly looks to be heading that way under the Irish magician.