Michael Gray shared the elation felt by Sunderland fans as they sealed Championship promotion at Wembley – but the former Black Cats star also issued a warning ahead of next season.
Alex Neil’s side beat Wycombe Wanderers 2-0 to end their four-year stay in England’s third tier, and Sunderland’s end erupted with emotion and relief at the final whistle.
Gray, who reported on the game for talkSPORT, has always supported Sunderland, playing for their first team between 1992 and 2004 after coming through the Black Cats academy.
The talkSPORT co-commentator knows exactly what it feels like to lose a play-off final, having had his decisive penalty saved in 1998 against Charlton Athletic.
And the relief he felt for his club after finally winning at Wembley shone through.
“Well I caught my breath, wow that’s special,” Gray managed to say, having held back tears as he absorbed what had just happened.
“Just to see that in front of us at Wembley. I didn’t think this would ever happen, you just have this expectation that things won’t go your way.
“What a group of players. Alex Neil is coming halfway through the season, what he has achieved at this football club, my football club.
“They never deserved to be in League 1 in the first place, we had to spend four years there and we did it the hard way. And now they have the chance to celebrate with those Sunderland supporters, c is simply amazing.
But while the former player was delighted that his club had finally escaped Ligue 1, Gray also stressed how essential it was that the club’s hierarchy did not now miss the chance to carry on after Saturday’s victory.
There has been confusion this season over who owns the Black Cats, with multiple shareholders in the mix and it’s unclear how much of a say each side has in what happens at the Stadium of Light.
And that’s something Gray says needs to be corrected and not ignored just because they got promoted.
“We’re a country mile away [being back in the Premier League]“, said Gray.
“The ownership of the club, which still needs to be stabilized. Who is responsible for who enters the club? Who leaves ?
“And the club itself has to know which direction this football club is going because it [the fans] deserve that. How many people bring 46,000 to Wembley Stadium?
“They shouldn’t be in Ligue 1, and they’ve been there through error after error. Now it looks like they’re on the right path to success.
He added: “And if they start doing it right and they make things happen, that’s what you can achieve.”