The highest attended game in Europe this weekend will not be in the Premier League, at Old Trafford, nor will it be at Real Madrid or Barcelona. It will, in fact, be at Wembley between two giant League One teams that have fallen from grace over the past decade, but this game signifies the major progress that both clubs have made.
Over 80,000 fans will travel to London (BBC) this weekend to watch the CheckaTrade Trophy final , atrophy which has been written off by many as ‘tinpot’. However, for Portsmouth and Sunderland, it is a chance for an epic day out, the chance to win some silverware and enjoy a rare visit to Wembley.
Sunderland’s last visit to the home of football was back in 2014 where they reached the League Cup final, losing as expected to Manchester City. They had caused a shock in the semi-finals when they beat Manchester United at Old Trafford but the final was a step too far for them on this occasion.
In fact, Sunderland’s Wembley record has been nothing short of rotten since their FA Cup success in 1973. They lost a League Cup final to Norwich in 1985, in 1988 they were beaten by Wigan in a commemorative game to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Football League whilst two years later they lost to Swindon in the play-off final.
In 1992, they returned to Wembley in the FA Cup final but lost again, this time to a good Liverpool side. But perhaps the most painful defeat for Sunderland came in 1998, in the Division One play-off final. They played out a corking 4-4 draw with Charlton but again ended up on the wrong side of a penalty shootout and got nothing from the game.
So that is six consecutive Wembley defeats for the Mackems and Portsmouth will be hoping to make it seven in front of a bumper crowd this Sunday. They have experienced Wembley a few times in recent history, with their FA Cup success in 2008 rewarding them with two visits.
They won that cup in unspectacular circumstances, with two 1-0 wins at Wembley. The semi-final win was over West Brom, whilst they overcame the unfancied Cardiff in a truly unforgettable final. Nwankwo Kanu scored the winner in both games and put himself into their history books of Portsmouth football club.
That was the peak for Pompey and financial chaos ensued in the following years. However, there was also a brief glimpse of hope in 2010 as they were beaten in the FA Cup final by Chelsea. Three relegations in four seasons followed and the club sank to League Two. Things turned around for the club in 2013 as the fans launched a successful takeover of the club and started to rebuild.
Now they are fighting for promotion back to the Championship along with Sunderland and it would not be a surprise if this was a rehearsal for the play-off final in May. This game will play a huge part in the promotion run-in with a Wembley success likely to give the fans and players of the winning side a huge boost heading into the final few games. Of course, there is that psychological factor to be considered as well, and gaining that edge over a promotion rival could play a huge part deciding the outcome of the season.
This may be seen as a day out at Wembley for both sets of fans and they should enjoy it, but it is likely to mean a whole lot more in the promotion race.