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Standing on the shoulders of Arseholes

Nobody likes a traditionalist. It’s true. How nauseating is it when an old man is harping on about the good old days when he had to walk 250,000 miles to school every day without the fear of having your bag snatched by a tracksuit wearing, knife wielding maniac? However, tradition does mean so much to many people and shouldn’t be mocked or laughed at. The fondest Sunderland memories are of days in the Roker End with little room to breathe let alone move, rubbing shoulders with men of equal status and the same motives for being there. In the middle of such a nostalgia attack I was hit with a clear vision - The Sunderland Stadium of Light 2000 - it’s almost a culture shock.

On my right is my mate, on my left is a couple, in front is a family, behind is a racist bigot. Even further back are the executives, literally looking down on us laughing at the percentage of our wages that we’ve coughed up to be there, hurrahing a goal for and applauding one conceded with an “oh well, it’s only a game” attitude. Gone is the camaraderie, the togetherness, the rock solid pies, the scorching Bovril, the tradition. Of course, like all good traditionalists, I’ve missed out the urine down the back of your leg, the foul breath, the smoke, the excessive farting and the claustrophobia that were factors of football of old. But the simple fact is that it was football - like it or lump it - and football was the single most important thing. At the Derby County game I witnessed individual footballers being singled out for abuse by fans who cheered their names in previous games (assuming that they were in attendance previously). We are now a hardcore amongst a majority of fickle, soulless fans, executives and part timers.

A football match lasts for 90 minutes with a fifteen minute break and several minutes of injury time at the end. A day out at the Stadium of Light probably lasts a little over two hours. If the people that attend find it difficult to remain seated for the majority of this time then why attend? Unless you have a medical deficiency you should be able to last this length of time before going to the loo. Will you really starve if you don’t buy a burger? For God’s sake, have something to eat when you get home. You have hours to have a pint before kick off so why queue for ten minutes so that you can neck a combination of froth and piss in five at half time? You end up leaving your seat before half time to beat the rush and not returning until after the re-start. This is not only bordering on pointlessness but it creates congestion and impairs the view of other fans when returning to seats as well as inconveniencing those that have to move to accommodate you. I like a pint as much as the next guy but my football team comes first - after all I only see them for 90 minutes a week and the Wheatsheaf is open every day.

My biggest matchday gripe concerns the twats that leave before the end. I’m sorry if you feel you have a valid reason for doing this, but I can’t empathise. You pay for the duration of the game yet rarely accept full value. By leaving before the end you also spoil things for others who have to move to let you past. I’ve seen how bad empty spaces look on Match of the Day and the ironic thing is that half of you have probably gone out to the pub afterwards and claimed that you’re one of the loyalest fans in the world. The frustrating thing is that it is totally unnecessary. What difference does it make that you have to sit in traffic for half an hour after the game? If your club means that much to you then it shouldn’t matter. On the other hand if your club doesn’t mean that much to you then you shouldn’t be there in the first place. Sunderland AFC have many problems on the pitch and off of it. However, in the past we have always come together as fans ensuring survival and prosperity. We have always been the biggest thing about this football club but now I fear the newcomers are detracting from our own value. This should never be allowed to happen.

Lee Adams



When attending Sunderland matches in the mid-to-late-80s, every so often a chant would start: Geordies, Mackems, Geordies, Mackems and so it went on, each fan shouting a name that associates them with an area, but all with an unwavering support to the team they know and love. Today you’ll be lucky indeed to hear any such chant. Those brave enough to shout “Geordies” will receive a torrent of abuse or worse. My argument is this: Why do Sunderland need or have to be called Mackems?

I was brought up in Gateshead and have no connections at all with Sunderland, but to my black and white friends, I’m a Mackem simply because I support the Lads. Can anyone give me a plausible explanation as to why Sunderland fans call themselves Mackems? As far as I’m aware, it is a term which is fairly recent and was connected to the ship yard workers until they were closed for good in the late eighties. They would ‘Mack’ and others would ‘Tack’ the ships away from the Wear.

Would it be unkind to say that Sunderland fans adopted the tag ‘Mackems’ because they needed an identity or a sense of belonging to the area, so that when someone said “You sound like a Geordie,” they could reply: “No mate, I’m a Mackem.” Why does being called a Geordie rankle the red and white hordes so much? 20-30 years ago when the away fans would sing songs associating Sunderland with Geordies, no-ne appeared to care less. It is only in recent years that fans have started to distance themselves from the Geordie tag, and though I can see why the people of Sunderland needed a tag (to unite them and create a regional identity) why they waited over a century to call themselves ‘Mackems’ which was originally a derogatory term in any case, is anyone's guess.

Apparently the term Geordie covers a wide area. When researching this fact (I use the term research in it’s broadest context), I found that Geordie, refers to anyone who is born either on the North or South of the Tyne from a far as Prudhoe to the coastline and North and South Shields, down to Jarrow and Hebburn. In the Bonnie Prince Charlie rebellion in 1845 you were either for Charlie, a Jacobite for the Catholics and the Stuart cause, or else you were a Geordie for the protestant King George of Hanover. When the keelmen went down to London with their keels full of coals from Newcastle they were asked, “Are you a Charlie or a Geordie?” Nowadays, to get along as a Geordie playing for Sunderland, it helps never to have a bad game, and also not to wear offensive T-shirts calling the fans who pay your wages, isn’t that right Mr Clark?

Recently, there has been an explosion around the concept of identity. Since Sunderland, Newcastle and the surrounding areas became Tyne and Wear, each city has been keen to distance itself from the other (some would argue favouritism towards Newcastle when it comes to spending the taxpayers money). Identities are all about questions of using the resources of history, language and culture in the process of becoming rather than being. Not “who we are” or “where we come from,” so much as what we might become, how we have been represented and how that bears on how we might represent ourselves.

If a Sunderland fan, or any other who wishes to beat their chests and remonstrate about the merits of “their club” and “their city” then fine. Are we in danger then of fencing off other identities simply to preserve our own, or to keep others out? Personally, I think the Mackem tag is outdated after only a few years of being used. Apart from the Nissan car factory based in Washington, what other commodities does Sunderland export? There is no glass anymore, save for what the new glass centre has to offer and there is little happening down on the Wear. So what do others “make” and others “take?” Not a lot.

Let us look at the facts. In the 80s, Newcastle, Sunderland and the North East in general were ravaged by job losses and high unemployment as well as being ramshackle and generally run down. The football clubs were the same. 15-20,000 hardcore fans watching sub-standard teams in sub-standard (crap) stadiums. Then things started to change. While Sunderland was coming to terms with the loss of its shipyards, Newcastle started its regeneration - Eldon Square, the Quayside, the city centre. Then came Keegan, McDermott and Hall, a rebuilt ground, party city and before you know it, Newcastle is the official regional centre of the North East and the eighth best place to visit for a night out in the world. Sunderland, well it’s a cracking night out and everything, but can it honestly compete?

Newcastle has also had a lot of media attention over the years, or celebrities falling over themselves to be re-associatd with their so called roots. Jayne Middlemiss, Ant and Dec, Jimmy Nail, Old Uncle Tom Cobbly and all. The rise and rise of Newcastle FC in the 90s has riled all things red and white. The entertainers, European qualification, is it any wonder that the people of Sunderland and fans of the club in general might feel left out, soulless without sense of belonging? The tension is at its highest between the two cities as they clamour to better each other.

Football has always been a working class game. In past generations its players and fans generally came from working class backgrounds. The bulk of football crowds today is made up of those fans on lower incomes. The advent of all seater stadia and increased admission prices is making it harder for these fans to attend games. The English working class is not a “thing.” It has always been a historical relationship of unity and difference. It unites one class against the other, or in football terms, one set of supporters against the other. We need to feel wanted.

A sense of belonging is necessary when attaching someone to a football club or an area; not the so called return to 'roots' but a coming to terms with our 'routes.' What does the future hold? Do we need the term Mackem or are there any suitable alternatives? There are a number of questions to answer.

Nick with the Gingham Scrunchy

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