I enjoyed last season. I didn’t enjoy the season before last, or the one before that, but I still turned up every week. It wasn’t very nice. A horrendous, toxic atmosphere festered inside the SoL. Last season was different. We had been relegated to the third tier of English football for only the second time in our history, yet our loyal fans who had endured the horrific previous seasons responded positively and got right behind the lads, even when we conceded and went behind, the backing was there, all season, and more often not, the players responded to that.
We narrowly missed out on promotion and the novelty now appears to have worn off. We have had a poor start to the season and last season’s renewed vigour and enthusiasm has regressed alarmingly back to the poisonous, unpleasant SoL of yester-seasons.
Last night, against Burton, we were beaten for the umpteenth time this season by a side that we really should be dispatching with ease, following a very predictably poor performance. The players, manager and owners will have been left in no doubt what the fans thought about this, not only by the crowd reaction at the final whistle, but more alarmingly, also throughout the game. Of course, supporters are entitled to their opinion and entitled to voice them, and, yes, the performances of players, managers and owners this season has been massively unacceptable, but is the vehement booing of players when they make a mistake going to improve their performance? I would suggest probably not.
We are a Third Division club, and we have Third Division players. For most of them, Sunderland AFC will be the biggest club that they ever play for and will be the pinnacle of their careers. We are not watching players that have been signed for millions of pounds, earning millions of pounds, that could not care a less about the club, the results, or even their own performance, ‘players’ that are worthy of our hatred (a la Rodwell, Djilobodji, Ndong etc).
We are watching Third Division players; this is their level. They are used to plying their trade in front of a few thousand punters every week. To play in front of nearly 30,000 every other week must be unbelievable for them, but to have 25,000 folks shouting at them to tell them how crap at football they are, is not likely to instil confidence or inspire their performance. These are players that trying their best for the club, and care about the club and do have a sense of personal pride.
Collective and individual performances have been dire, and we know they can do better, much better, we’ve seen they can do better, which surely must be down to the manager. I think that the majority of folks would agree with me on that, so I find it staggering the very level of vociferous disgust that was aimed at individual players on the pitch last night. They didn’t scout themselves, they didn’t buy themselves, they didn’t coach themselves, they didn’t select themselves. They are the players we’ve got, and we should be behind them, regardless of how capable they are actually are, or how competent the manager is, or how we feel about the owners.
Just about every player got it from the crowd last night. Many of them you could see that their head had gone, and just didn’t know what to do (most noticeably Lynch and Maguire) and made a mistake with every touch. Even Luke O’Nien, who arguably is one of the only individuals so far this season to have performed consistently well, and could potentially be playing at a higher level, got the wrath of the crowd when he misplaced a pass late on the game. This is hardly likely to persuade the lad to sign a new contract. The atmosphere last night is as bad as it’s been for years.
This is not me having a go at fans. I am a fan. I get it. We are upset, and rightly so. I am devastated about the state of the club and where it currently finds itself. The only way this can change is if performances and results improve. A change of manager or ownership might help that to happen, but if that does not happen, results will almost certainly not improve if players are scared to get on the pitch because they will get a barrage of abuse for a sideways pass. Regardless of what we think about the manager or the owners, let’s get behind the lads on the pitch, from kick off to the final whistle. We did it last season. Let’s do it again.