ALS' Michael Lough takes a close look at the media coverage of our demise...
It is often said that your funeral is the only time that everyone will truly love you. Many personal dislikes are put to one side out of respect and over time the legacy you leave behind will become increasingly positive.
Naturally, it would be crass to compare such a serious subject to a football team suffering back to back relegations but within the context of the sport, Sunderland have been suffering a slow, painful death and after many years our life support machine has been switched off: with our embarrassing capitulation at home to Burton Albion.
Since then, many national media outlets have written gushing tributes, declaring it a shame to see a ‘great club’ like Sunderland suffer relegation to the third tier of English football for only the second time in their history.
In a sense it was comforting to see football fans and the wider media being supportive of our plight and it is a timely reminder that despite our current mess, we still have a great football club waiting to be unearthed again. George Caulkin’s piece in The Times was especially poignant and scratched deeply beneath the surface of the ingrained problems at the Stadium of Light. This is unsurprising as Caulkin has defended our fanbase where others have mocked and has held a mirror up to the club on more than one occasion over the years.
The same can’t be said for many other publications, their words seem hollow, almost an incidental afterthought. For too long now we have become a standard joke in football circles, a cheap shot guaranteed to get a laugh. As recently as March, the BBC made a big show of our fans leaving early against Preston without any actual analysis of our situation.
Back in January, The Daily Mail provided Jack Rodwell with a platform to drag our name through the mud and declare that walking away from his multi-million-pound contract would render him ‘jobless.’ In a region where gaining employment is a daily struggle it was insensitive in the extreme and to help paint the narrative that Rodwell as a victim was in poor taste. The same journalist who conducted the interview then expressed his disbelief that none of the Sunderland players wanted to speak to him after Saturday’s game. It’s this kind of hypocrisy that sticks in the throat, he was more than happy to attempt to be a moral spokesman on behalf of our fans just months after belittling and insulting them.
As I said earlier, our downward spiral has been long and painful to endure. It was therefore fitting that Darren Bent played a part in hammering the final nail in our coffin after his departure just over seven years ago set the wheels in motion for our fall from grace. When the striker left in January 2011, we were in 6th place in the Premier League and had lost just five league games. At that stage of the season we had won six home games; fast forward to the present day and add 19 to that total and you have our collective league home wins since August 2010, that’s 155 matches. Just two of those victories have come this season and only five have occurred since August 2016. As of April 21st 2018, we have spent a total of 697 days out of the last possible 822 in the relegation zone. But we should consider ourselves lucky really, because at least we haven’t had to endure the horror of only finishing inside the Premier League top six and reaching a Europa League and Capital One Cup final, like the poor bairns at the Emirates Stadium have had to suffer.
The condemning of our fans and the general micky taking is even more ridiculous when you compare it to the sympathy that our dear friends 13 miles up the road receive over Mike Ashley’s ownership. There’s no doubt he’s made mistakes and is a morally bankrupt individual. However, in recent years he has backed managers to the hilt. Steve McLaren squandered fortunes in the 2015/16 season but despite the ultimate relegation to the Championship with Rafa Benitez in the dugout, he backed the Spaniard to the tune of £57 million. Of course, they made that back and more due to incoming transfers, but he reinvested it back into the squad and they got promoted at the first attempt. Earlier on this season however, he was back to being the spawn of Satan due to a perceived lack of investment. They now sit in the top half of the Premier League and have mathematically avoided relegation and the Ashley Out campaign appears to have ground to a halt. Seemingly, faux moral outrage exists only when they aren’t getting results on the pitch.
Contrast this to Sunderland and there has been little analysis of Ellis Short washing his hands of the club until now. There were no indignant protestations when he gave Simon Grayson a little over a million quid to spend last summer, despite bringing in £30 million they didn’t budget for in the sale of Jordan Pickford; no digging up his stage-managed interview in November where he stated that he was a fan of the club and that we should be a top 8 Premier League side and finish 12th in the top flight during a bad season.
In January there was little cross-referencing of this when he refused to give Chris Coleman a penny to mount a survival challenge. They will argue that they have not been sent to cover Sunderland games this season, but like vultures picking at the carcass of roadkill, most nationals sent journalists to the SOL this weekend.
Obviously, this is more down to editorial decisions than the choice of the journalists themselves, but if we are a big enough club to warrant a large media congregation when we are at our lowest ebb; surely our descent was worthy of equal coverage and analysis. Therefore, their empty words of sorrow at our ultimate relegation are simply too little late.