I’ve written previously in ALS that, being a posh boy from Durham, I never quite knew whether I was like other Sunderland fans. I wasn’t like the families of striking miners or shipyard workers. I didn’t have the right accent and my dad smoked a pipe. And, when you feel like that, you think everyone knows. Like there’s an arrow above your head as you stand in the Roker End saying ‘different’.
Problem was I bloody loved standing in the Roker End, lifting myself up on my elbows on the yellow barriers and swinging my feet, joining in with the chants and the roar and falling in love with eleven frequently useless footballers who wore a shirt that, to this day, fills me with a pride whenever I see it and a feeling of belonging that I can’t fully express.
But that feeling didn’t change the fact that I thought I was an outsider. And that continued until I bought that first copy of ALS. Random thoughts and observations of other fans made me realise that I was OK. It was OK that I had hated David Corner, I wasn’t weird for wanting hair like Barry Venison, I wasn’t alone in ducking down in the turnstile to get a £3 entry. I was also struck by how wrong some of the writers were. John McPhail was dreadful; how could they think he wasn’t? I knew Shaun Cunnington would play for England, but no one else could see it. It wasn’t that ALS had shown me I was the same as everyone else, it showed me we were all different.
A fanzine gives the fans a voice that is more public than one person standing in the crowd, shouting into the wind. A chance to offer their opinion, for better or worse, to others. What the others do with it is up to them. For some it’s the chance to feel part of the conversation, for some it’s validation of their own opinion and, quite often, it’s proof that everyone else agrees with your friends and you are the weird one (see Shaun Cunnington above).
The thing I’d not appreciated until then is that there isn’t a ‘proper’ Sunderland fan. We’re all different, we all have our opinions and our thoughts. Some loved Roker Park, some were glad to leave. Some adored Peter Reid, some thought he was a bully. Some thought John Kay was a legend, actually, bad example, everyone thought John Kay was a legend. But we’re all fans.
And never once, in over thirty years, have I ever read a fanzine, whether it’s ALS or Roker Report or other clubs’ fanzines or, to be more modern, Twitter comments or podcasts and felt like they were telling me what to think. They were telling me what they thought and it was up to me to decide if I agreed or disagreed.
We live in a world now where, more and more, people view all media as their source of opinion as well as information, waiting to be told what to think, what to buy and how to feel about something. I don’t blame people for falling for it because it’s constant and it’s hard not to let it in. I like reading newspapers and websites to get information, but fanzines offer more, they offer an insight into what some fans think. A chance for anyone to have their say
The massive downside of the modern source of opinion is that people are becoming very good at using it to their advantage. Getting into our heads with simple repeated messages, pointing the finger of blame to distract or offering an ‘alternative truth’.
Fanzines must never play such games. And neither should podcasts, or supporters’ groups.
And I don’t believe they have. I know how Wise Men Say feel about certain players, I know how RR would like to see us play, I know how RAWA feels about fan involvement with pre match build up but none of them have told me that I should agree. And if they did I’d laugh in their faces.
Fanzines are not the voice of the fans, they’re not trying to tell you what to think. I’m not sure they’ve ever tried to. They’re the medium through which fans speak. They have no power whatsoever without the fans asking for their views to be published. If you disagree with what you’re reading don’t turn against the person who said it, and don’t fall for the subtle encouragement of others to attack the author. Write something yourself, or tweet what you think, or go to a RAWA meeting and shout at their committee.
But don’t mistake what the fanzines and the podcasts are doing. They know they’ve no power, so suggesting they’re trying to throw their weight around is ludicrous. They’re listening to what is said to them and reacting accordingly. If you want them to say something else, tell them, that’s how they work. The brilliance of the fanzines, podcasts and the supporter’s groups is that they offer a chance for fans to be heard.
They can’t be the voice of the fans because, even on matchdays, we don’t speak with one voice. Fanzines give the chance for all voices to be heard but what you do with what you’ve heard and whether or not you choose to contribute is up to you.
Oh, and don’t take my word for it, I’m just a posh boy from Durham. Make your own mind up.