THIS afternoon’s trip to Lancashire might be the first time Sunderland have faced Accrington Stanley, but once again the number of supporters making the trip to the Crown Ground will make for a greater occasion than many would have previously envisaged.
And manager Jack Ross has drawn parallels between the way the Black Cats’ support has attacked life in League One to how Rangers continuously attracted the crowds when they battled to climb back up the ladder north of the border.
When Rangers, demoted due to financial problems, encountered life in Scotland’s League Two, they were consistently backed by their supporters across the country, from Montrose to Berwick and beyond.
Falkirk-born Ross, who was taking the early steps in coaching at that stage, feels there are only certain clubs that can regularly sell out their away allocations regardless of the division they find themselves in.
Ross said: “I have not been surprised really. People have often asked me what the club is like here. I say you don’t understand how big it is it until you are in it.
“I think with the fan base, you don’t appreciate how passionate they are until you are lucky to be in this job, like me. I mean that across the North-East really, not just at this club, the passion for football is here.
“It’s a bit like Celtic and Rangers in Scotland, I don’t think you understand it until you are right in amongst it.
“What Rangers supporters showed during that period, the synergy is here. They have shown an unbelievable loyalty because it was not just away from home.
“That period Rangers were getting 40-50,000 for home games in League Two in Scotland. That was probably a reflection of the defiance, that this is ‘our club’.
“It is a bit like that here at Sunderland now, people will point to us doing OK which helps but it is still a ridiculous show of support and loyalty for League One.
“That is what probably sets Sunderland apart from other clubs, to be able to get that support in these circumstances, to still come with the potential to get bigger.”
The Crown Ground will have 2,374 Sunderland fans, all crammed in like they have so often this season. The fact the ground only holds a little over 5,000 should make for an intriguing atmosphere, and will represent a special occasion for Stanley too.
“It has become the norm for us because of the numbers we take away from home, we have got used to dealing with that and that bit of adrenaline is brings,” said Ross.
“The away games that aren’t sold out feel different, like the Walsall game in the cup, but we thrive off the games that are sold out. Sometimes the size of the ground can make the following feel bigger.
“You will feel more intensity and the players should go and enjoy it.”
After a really bright start to life in League One following promotion last season, Accrington have stuttered of late and have slipped down to 11th. Under John Coleman, though, they have made enormous strides.
Ross said: “When you speak about them, and you are complimentary, I don’t want to be patronising in any manner because their success has been deserved.
“This season has been encouraging as well. Everyone deserves credit for their success.
“How they have progressed is fantastic and Saturday is a big occasion for them, in terms of attendance etc. We are all looking forward to it.
“The play nice football, I have said that. It will be a really competitive game because they are very good side.
“And they won’t just park the bus, I’ve felt most teams in this league have taken that approach with us.”