If you look very closely at the picture above this article, you can see a man with white hair, his mouth wide open and a look of pure, unbridled joy on his face.
There’s a father and son in the mix somewhere, a girl with her head tilted to the right and the widest smile in Wembley and three friends – or they might be strangers, not that you’d know – locked in a disbelieving, euphoric embrace.
All ages, all types of people – all united by one thing: a split-second reaction to Fabio Borini’s brilliant opening goal in Sunday’s Capital One Cup final.
The snap was taken by The Journal’s photographer at Wembley, Lewis Arnold, and describes the joy of watching football better than any construction of words ever could. Every inch of the picture is drenched in unabashed euphoria. It’s a joyous, brilliant snapshot of what football does to us. I can’t stop looking at it.
Sometimes we lose sight of what football is all about. So much about football in the Premier League era is preening, showy, deliberate and pre-meditated. Players, officials, journalists, fans – we’re all guilty, at times, of forgetting why the sport meant so much to us in the first place.
Last weekend was a brilliant reminder of just why the game is so special; a weekend when cynicism was melted away by a club who played a blinder from the earliest train on Saturday morning to the last commiseratory pint in the capital on Sunday night.
Sunderland’s day at Wembley may have ended in defeat, but it didn’t half feel like the weekend remained a triumph for the club. Unlike in the Cup finals of 1992 and 1985, Sunderland turned up and played really, really well.
There’s a rule about losing and generally if you’re going to go down, you should go down swinging, and for Gus Poyet and the Sunderland players, that was certainly true.
They dominated the game for 45 thrilling minutes and would have at least secured extra-time if it hadn’t been a combination of Manchester City’s £50m-worth of talent kicking in and Steven Fletcher failing to rediscover his shooting boots. Sunderland were good, though.
Poyet made excellent calls, the players drained every ounce of effort and the fans – well, the Sunderland supporters were a credit to the club. Hopefully they melted away some of the pre-conceived ideas that those outside of the North East might have about impossible expectations in the way they backed a brilliant but ultimately dashed effort.
There’s not really much point in revisiting the central tenet of the argument that the Cups matter, but I do feel as if Lewis’ picture should be brandished the next time people try to run down any competition that can dredge up the kind of emotions shown in the snap.
Of course Poyet’s team might still get relegated in May. Their weekend assignment at Steve Bruce’s motivated Hull looks treacherous enough to make another trip to Wembley nothing more than a possibility at the moment, rather than anything to get particularly excited about.
But you can’t measure the sort of momentum that Sunday might have generated for a club that, back in October, felt as if it was coming apart at the seams. Back then, you wouldn’t have trusted Ellis Short to pick your lottery numbers, never mind a strategy to take the club forward.
Now he finally has evidence of the hard sell that Niall Quinn made all those years ago. “Bring them success,” Quinn had said. “And you’ll never be forgotten on Wearside.”
Quinn was in London on Saturday among the throng of red and white in Covent Garden at the Coach and Horses pub. He was drinking, chatting and laughing with everyone else who was enjoying a weekend that meant more than your average Premier League away trip.
The survival fight resumes in a week with a crucial game against Crystal Palace. It might feel like a comedown but the lesson of the weekend is that Sunderland are better united.
They aren’t a bad side either, and it looked to all intents and purposes on Sunday as if Poyet had finally moved towards a solution to his striker dilemma by picking Borini through the middle.
Whatever happens though, the club will always have Wembley. It was an afternoon to cherish.