Every day since the age of 11, when he punched in the security code at the Academy of Light, Jack Colback has been reminded of the yearning on Wearside for another set of red and white heroes.
At the risk of sparking a minor security scare at the training ground, it is a nice little touch that the combination required to get through one of the labryinth of doors at the club’s Cleadon training facility immortalises the last time Sunderland lifted a major trophy. It is also a reminder that it is more than four decades since a club that dominates the life of the city has had the sort of success that Sunday’s rivals Manchester City have begun to take for granted. For a region where football moulds the identity and continues to draw staggering crowds despite the recession, it is a wait that gnaws at the soul.
As one of those who has been brought up around the likes of club great Jimmy Montgomery, Colback appreciates more than most what victory on Sunday would mean to a club desperate to celebrate a new set of heroes. There might even be a requirement to alter the security procedures at the ground.
He says: “It would be massive if we won a trophy. The fans have got memories for 1973, and even one of the security codes for the doors at the training ground is 1973.
“At every club there’s a pressure of winning something, even at the likes of Manchester City or Arsenal. Their fans get to watch good football every week, but they’re still desperate for a trophy. It’s not often an opportunity like this comes along so we’ll be absolutely buzzing if we win it.”
Although many modern-day professionals are largely insulated from the average terrace-goer these days, Colback is different.
His Academy schooling means he had a need to keep his feet on the ground hammered into him from an early age. It also means that he knows more Sunderland fans than most of his team-mates, which can work both for and against him in weeks like this.
He says: “Trying to get tickets has been hard for our fans. I’ve had a few coming out of the woodwork and had a few texts so I’ve tried to help a few people out. There’s been that much demand I’ve only got what I could. I think Craig Gardner’s got the most family and friends, he’s got about 140 going!
“Everyone on the Sunderland side of things is desperate to go because we don’t get many chances to come to this sort of game in a Wembley final. Everyone wants to be there.”
With great expectation comes great responsibility and in this case, it doesn’t get much bigger than attempting to shut out a Manchester City that are among the most dangerous in the Premier League. With Sergio Aguero returning, they have the look of a team that mean business but Sunderland’s recent record against the newly-minted billionaires of English football is better than most. It is a source of comfort for Sunderland’s players.
Colback recounts: “We’ve won the four at our place 1-0 against them. The year before, we drew 3-3 at their place when we should have won as we were 3-1 up with five minutes to go.
“It’s all about how you play on the day. We’ll be working on them this week and trying to deal with how they can hurt us and we can hurt them. We need to go out and play our own game.
“When we defend we have to defend well. We have to hope we can nick one at the other end, we know how good they are and we have to try and match them. The majority of people will expect City to win, that’s part and parcel of when a big team comes up against a smaller team.
“But it’s all about what happens on the day. Last year in the FA Cup, they got beaten by Wigan and there’s no reason why can’t do the same this time.”
Colback’s road to Wembley is more circuitous than most. It is the tale of the Tynesider of black-and-white stock who has become the fresh-faced representation of all that is good about Sunderland’s production line. So how did the Wearsiders nick such a fine talent from the back garden of their near neighbours?
He explains: “I first went on trial at Middlesbrough and trained there for a while but the travelling was a bit too far and I felt I was a bit too young at the time aged eight or nine,” he said. “I came to Sunderland initially at that age but I thought I was still a bit too young. I came back to Sunderland a second time and felt it was the right time to do so. I’d just turned 11 when I came back.
“They said there was an opportunity to be part of the academy and I took it. I never thought twice about it. Obviously parts of my family support Newcastle, but they certainly weren’t going to tell me not to sign for Sunderland. It was an opportunity I had to take. It was a massive chance for me.”
This is now Colback’s club. He continues: “As players it’s your job, isn’t it, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s your job to go out on the pitch and play as well as you can for whoever you play for and that’s what I do.”
The Colback family is already intertwined with the Capital One Cup, with son Jack having been born on the morning of the Chelsea quarter-final back in December. It would, he admits, be a dream to carry them at Wembley if the team pulls off a famous victory at Wembley.
“Lily is two on the 27th, and Jack’s nine weeks old,” he said.
“She was born on the day of the quarter-final against Everton (FA Cup under O’Neill). He was born on the date of the Chelsea quarter-final which wasn’t great. It’s just as well my other half’s not pregnant again!
“It’d be nice to carry the kids round the pitch at Wembley if we’ve won.”