ONSIDE: Middlesbrough fans wouldn’t swap cup success for the world – so Sunderland supporters should dare to dream


“WE’LL meet back here on the bus an hour after full-time – by which time we will have won the cup”.

Cue the roar of a coach load.

How right the organiser of our 52-seater from North Ormesby, which left at daft-o-clock on the morning of the final, was.

There was a bite in the air when we met before 6am. You couldn’t really feel it, it was overshadowed by excitement.

And, even before we had pulled on to the A66 there was a sense of inevitability about the day. A feeling of communal togetherness that the 11 who got the nod from McClaren that day were going to become history makers.

When one of my colleagues at work clapped eyes on the brilliant display put together by the excellent Red Faction who paid tribute to that 11 during last week’s Boro-nil at home to Leeds, he asked how we managed to win a major cup with Doriva and Danny Mills in the team.

McClaren’s perogative was to put together a side that was nothing if not solid. He did exactly that. While letting the Mendietas and Juninhos of this world run free and work their magic, aforementioned Doriva and reliable George were nailed to the centre circle.

Ten years on today or tomorrow, as the day of the final was on the 29th. The memories still feel like they were made yesterday.

It’s the little things you remember: The pride of seeing the Boro banner hanging from the side of the stadium, the excitement of getting to your seat, soon to be overpowered by the nerves of realising what was to come, Zenden bursting down the left, Zenden slipping over, a certain big Aussie tossing one into the net, Michael Ricketts somehow getting his name in the wall-of-fame by making a token appearance, Southgate lifting the cup...

Regardless of the parts of the day you remember, the day provokes memories that last a lifetime for us all.

And it’s a day which immortalises men forever.

Joseph Desire-Job was, in all honesty, a forgettable footballer. Yet he was thrust among the finest in one split second.

Steve McClaren had, in all honesty, been rather uninspiring ahead of our jaunt through the rounds of the Carling Cup.

Yet it was the start of another period of dreams for Boro fans – less than a decade after Robson had allowed the loyal followers to believe dreams can come true.

While chairmen and those sitting high and mighty on the boards of clubs across the country fight for stability in the Premier League cashing in on the unmatchable television rights and income that comes with the territory of being among the elite, fans dream of days like Cardiff.

We would love to be in the promised land watching the world’s finest grace the Riverside turf week in, week out, that is without doubt.

But unless you have been born into the footballing-alternative of a silver spoon hanging from your mouth – supporting one of the sides challenging for major honours every year – it’s days like Cardiff, the 2004 final, what being a football fan is all about.

There won’t be many Sunderland fans who haven’t been summoned with the possible dilemma of choosing between winning a cup and retaining their Premier League status.

You can’t doubt the importance of being one of those top 20 clubs, a mainstay in the Premier League.

But in 10 years time, as a fan, you aren’t going to be excitedly blasting at a keyboard looking back at the memories of a 17th place finish.

In 50 years time you aren’t going to sit down a young fan who has it is all to come and tell them about the time you guaranteed safety or secured another spot in the world of mid-table mediocrity.

Days like Cardiff don’t come around very often. But when they do you have to make the most of them, it’s what being a football fan is all about.