Another throwaway has left us on the brink. Depending on results we could be relegated if we lose to Burton. Ordinarily I would say that was a ridiculous sentence, but the truth is that is where we are and we may well lose to Burton on current form. Now despite the results in recent weeks, the performances have been better. We can point the finger at goalkeepers or defenders or even the manager, but the question is, how productive is that really? The players are pushed on to the pitch to put in a performance and, by and large, in recent weeks they have. The fact that they are either terrified or lacking in confidence while they are out there is not something I am going to criticise them for.
The thing that worries me most is the apathy. Everyone in the bubble, the season ticket holders, the occasional attenders, the manager, the players, the staff working in the bars, Frankie from Frankie and the Heartstrings…everyone appreciates the position we are in. Everyone feels the pain and the pressure. There are two things that are entirely absent. Firstly, there is the media attention, secondly there is the owner. I will deal with first things first.
The media seem to be forming an opinion that it is the Sunderland fans who are to blame. Ian Dennis from Radio 5 Live talked of an apathy amongst supporters when talking about Sunderland’s crisis. This view was partly supported by local fanzine writers, but the fact is it is not true. We may be apathetic in terms of when we concede that first goal (Oh well, that’s that again) but we are far from apathetic about this club and what it means to us. If you look at BBC’s Sunderland section, there is no mention of the perilous situation the mismanagement of this club has left us in. There is no sympathy for the fans who have endured the worst spell in the club’s history. All of the talk is about fans leaving early, or empty seats, or a poisonous atmosphere.
The question then is how did we get here? How did we get to a position where neutrals are completely ignorant to our plight? In the North East we pride ourselves on being a passionate bunch when it comes to football. When Darlington went out of business we were all up in arms. Now Hartlepool suffer and fans from across the North East are campaigning and posting articles about their plight. When Sunderland are falling like a stone, things are different. It’s car crash television. When Newcastle falter, when players are involved in scandals, when fans protest, when their owner is castigated the media highlight the plight of the fans. When we are in the same position we are alone.
I want to understand where it all went wrong and the only comparison I have unfortunately is with our neighbours. What could it possibly be that has left us stranded without any support from journalists? The first answer may be in the Johnson saga. No doubt about it, the club handled that incredibly badly. To continue playing him in the face of the accusations and to hide from those accusation and deny them put us in a position where we were sticking up for someone who committed a sex crime. Johnson’s part in that cannot be overlooked, he lied to the club. However, we are not the first club to have been through these types of incident. There have been others not too far up the road. Joey Barton was at the centre of different types of scandal, but the blame didn’t lie with the club, it lay with the player. Despite the club’s behaviour during that time, it cannot be attributed to that.
Some may point to the celebrations of Man City’s trophy winning season when sections of the crowd performed the Poznan against Man Utd. I put it to you though that any bunch of fans who were playing Man Utd that day would have done the same. It cannot be that.
Speaking of Man Utd, there are clubs far more arrogant than us. We know our place, we have no delusions of grandeur. Newcastle on the other hand… The reports for them may well still call them a sleeping giant. They may well praise the support the club maintains. Those of us with longer memories will think back to the pre-Keegan days and the attendances that were regularly posted at Sid James Park. It’s not our arrogance that loses us the popular vote.
Finally, I come to the football. Sobs posted a blog recently about what Typical Sunderland meant. In recent years typical Sunderland means boring the pants off everyone neutral for most of the season before turning in a surprise escape. Regulars on Match of the Day’s last slot. We never had the quality or ambition to take games to the bigger teams. A succession of managers concentrated on keeping it tight and breaking when we had the chance. Nobody wanted to watch a Sunderland game. We were comparable to Stoke. I mean no offence to Stoke when I say that, they have had far more success than we have managed. The truth is that most people just wanted us to drop out of the league because they were bored of us.
So we cannot really blame the media or other fans for the lack of empathy or sympathy. We can however blame them for pointing to the fans leaving early or the falling attendances, after all, if they can’t be bothered to support us or watch it, why are they justified in criticising us for walking out on what we have witnessed over the past few years. I will be there next season, I always will, but if we want to bring back the popular vote then we need to change the entire outlook of the club starting with the entirely naïve and misguided owner. We are a farce at the moment. How many clubs can boast a manager who has never met the owner? We are an abandoned cause by both sympathisers and owner. It’s down to us, the fans to turn it around.