Since his arrival in December 1999, Kevin Kilbane has been the focus of much barracking and, certainly, many a pub argument. An enigma ever since he walked into the SoL, surely his now infamous v-sign at Belgium is the last straw in his chequered career at the Stadium of Light. Or is it?
Following his v-sign, the big question that has been asked is, “Can the level of abuse he receives be justified?” Granted, his actions at Gent were inexcusable, but who can blame the man for finally snapping due to the torrent of expletives hurled at him over the last few years. Every time he steps onto the pitch, people are waiting for an excuse to goad him. This is not a new situation, and anyway, how can anybody play at their best when subject to this level of abuse. But what has Kevin Kilbane done to deserve this? Surely he isn’t that bad?
Apparently so, according to the vast majority of the crowd. ‘Rubbish’, ‘Worst player I have ever seen’ and ‘Not fit to wear the red and white shirt’ are just some of the more complementary things I have heard said about Mr Kilbane recently. But still, what has he done that is that bad?
I accept that he is not the world’s greatest player. If his crossing is hit and miss, his ball control is miss and maybe. Still though, he’s not our worst player by a long chalk. Step forward Herr Haas, Monsieur Laslandes or, erm, Misterski (made that one up myself) Varga – players who collectively played, or at least tried to play, a significant proportion of last season’s matches but aren’t subject to anything like the level of abuse Kevin Kilbane receives.
I would even go as far as to say Kilbane was one of our best players in several games last season: Chelsea at home, Bolton away and Sheffield Wednesday in the cup to name just a few. “This is not enough,” I hear people say, “he needs to produce this kind of performance every week.” But how many of our players can we honestly say had more than five or six good games last season? Not many I think.
Kilbane is the only player in our side who can do something a little bit different. He works very hard, is pacy and more than useful in the air. He won several penalties last season, many of which were missed by Kevin Phillips, who received no abuse whatsoever for this. He scored a few goals and was our only creative spark in many games. If he improves his ball control and develops his repertoire instead of knocking the ball past the defender and running after it as fast as he can, he could become a very good player.
I can see why people criticise him. He will often have a rush of blood and do something silly as a consequence, such as mis-control badly or hook a cross into the crowd (or even stick his fingers up at the fans). This often makes him look worse than he actually is. His lack of a quality first touch results in him never having the ball fully under control and leaves him prone to gaffes, giving the boo-boys a chance to heckle.
My point is that whilst he may never become anybody’s favourite player, if he does stay at the club, which is looking increasingly likely, let’s not boo him or hassle him as soon as he comes onto the pitch. In my opinion he is certainly not the worst player at SAFC and is one of the few players we have got who is capable of creating a goal-scoring chance. Surely somebody who has always given everything when picked deserves a second chance. Doesn’t he?
THE BEGINNING IS NIGH
Nothing surprised me more last season than the speed with which it seemed to pass. It felt like only yesterday that I was convincing myself, after the 2-2 home draw with Charlton, that we were just warming up and that the team would soon get into gear. The subsequent sale of Alex Rae was at best short sighted and at worst pure madness, while the subsequent purchase of McAteer fully demonstrated.
The continuing speculation that our main 'stars' were set to flee the nest this summer only added to the feeling of anxiety. it seemed certain we would face the prospect of season 2002/03 without the services of Phillips, Sorensen and Arca. I knew quite a few who people who had said they would not renew their season tickets if Phillips was sold. One thing SAFC could be sure of was that if Phillips was sold and no 'real' replacement was brought in, the casual, pay match-by-match fan would probably not turn-up.
I am a firm believer that those fans we have seen arrive over the last five years are there to be entertained and a lot of them will be fed-up after last season. They will only occasionally turn-up this season. This is directly related to the whole football transformation of the 1990s, where crowds have increased thanks to better facilities and an all-round friendlier day out. Some clubs have forced out the traditional fans that can no longer afford to watch their team and replaced them with the people I speak of above. This has put clubs in the unenviable position of having to provide a source of entertainment to the public.
A failure to 'entertain' this season will mean that they have to entice the traditional fans back into the game. We have seen this in practice already when Sunderland reduced the price of season tickets last season. Like certain theme bars, football has been through its fashionable era. It may now be a time to return to traditional values.
I find the fact that somebody would consider throwing a pint of beer over Peter Reid intolerable. OK, so we lost the game, but it was a pre-season friendly. The problems Kevin Kilbane has had and his resulting gesture, whilst inexcusable, are fully understandable. Zinedine Kilbane has the crowd on his back from the moment his name is read out before the game has started.
I refer to it as the 'batteryometer'. SuperKev starts the game with a positive sign next to his name and so, in order for the fans to go away from the ground complaining about the game he played, he has to have an absolute stinker - something that doesn't happen that often. ZK on the other hand, starts every game with a negative sign next to his name, so even a good couple of runs will still have the populace shaking their head at his first mistake. The man has no self-confidence in front of the home fans and I feel that he will have to do something extraordinary to win the crowd over this season after his outburst. I feel it may now be a time to cut losses for both our sakes.
I am looking forward to this season. We have just signed Tommy Butler for three years, we still have Gavin McCann in midfield despite last season's transfer request, SuperKev will continue up front and it's clear we're trying to bring someone in to take some of the burden. Let's give Reidy a little more time. He has brought Sunderland to a level none of us could have dreamt of until recently.
OK, we're not world beaters, but our fans are down to earth, canny folk. A friend who often travels away with me once said: "I love supporting Sunderland because of who and what Sunderland is." Isn't this what being a Sunderland fan is all about?