As a young child I remember coming back from Zimbabwe to visit family in Washington for Christmas. I was 7 years old. We were staying at my gran’s house and one day her next door neighbours’ kids came over. I was very impressed with the older lad’s imperial walker and millennium falcon. They also brought a film to watch. As a 7-year-old a film about what happens after a nuclear attack was probably not the most ideal film, but it was the 80’s and parenting was more relaxed. I remember the snow falling in that post-apocalyptic winter and wondering why it was snowing. I didn’t think about why the bombs had dropped.
Today feels a little like that. I sit here contemplating why so many fans from opposing clubs are enjoying our demise. The Mags, I get. I would be disappointed if they didn’t point and giggle. It’s the others that baffle me. Why does someone in Asia relish Sunderland being relegated just because they have decided to support Man Utd? I could dwell on that. I could justify it with Sunderland fans doing the Poznan as Man Utd didn’t win the league. Reading that back makes me smile, years after that Aguero goal they are still upset that we rubbed their arrogant noses in it. Snowflakes.
All of this though is me wondering why it was snowing. It isn’t about why the bombs have dropped. I ranted about Short yesterday. I still hate him. However, just because the bombs have dropped under his stewardship doesn’t necessarily mean that he started the war. I have been wondering where it all went wrong. How do you baseline our decline? There have been ups and downs. We could have been huge if Murray had invested in 1990. But it didn’t happen. Drumaville were the Phoenix from the ashes after a dreadful run of ups and downs. We consolidated. We were better. We were established.
For me the turning point was during a pre-season game in Belgium. Peter Reid has guided Sunderland through the dark and achieved our highest Premier League finishes two years in a row. A bad run followed. His signings were questionable and rumours of a drinking culture surfaced. That preseason game he had beer thrown at him by his own fans. I think a lot of neutrals looked at that and thought we expected too much. I think a lot of neutrals thought we were too big for our boots.
From that point on we went through all sorts of turmoil. New managers came in and criticised the fitness of players. They bought too many average players rather than concentrating on key areas. They ripped up the blueprint and drew their own on the back of fag packets. There was no consistency. Larger than that though was the feeling that somewhere along the line that churn of players and managers led to a disconnect. The chances of Sunderland hosting a testimonial for one of their players is slim to none. Hosting an anniversary for a manager equally so. Sunderland had and continue to have no identity. That is stark. We are a club with a proud tradition. The club’s relegation statement may be perceived as a cynical attempt to appease fans but it held truth. The club is the heartbeat of the city. We survive despite. Shipyards and mines may close but the club remains and at its core lie the supporters who have seen incredible lows and mediocre highs. If we are to rebuild the club need to recognise that.
This is a plea on two counts. Firstly, for the club, please don’t talk about building around players. The worship of individuals has led us to this decline. We have, in Jack Rodwell, a perfect example of that. A player content to draw wages for no effort. Content to let families pay huge amounts on a weekly basis for, on a good day, mediocrity. Build your club around the supporters. It’s the one asset that you cannot strip. The second plea is for the fans. The club has asked so much of you all recently, I’m asking for a little more. Show us what we love and adore about you. Embrace relegation. Congas at Villa Park, mudslides at Wigan. Show the world why we are the best fans in the world. Let’s bring back the gallows humour and let’s have a laugh in League One. We are a family and in hard times families look after each other. Keep smiling folks. Despite the comments from other fans. As Oscar Wilde once said, there’s only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.