It looks as though things may start to get back to something approaching normality quite soon so good news then for all the supporters out there desperate to get back into the stadia and physically support their team. The anticipation is palpable. Not for me though, don’t count me in the hordes, I have migrated (downsized?) from supporter to fan and it happened a long time before the pandemic closed the grounds.
Just as I can recall where I was when Kennedy was shot (Junction of Chester Road and Kayll Road on a 16 bus) I can pinpoint where I was when I fell out of love with the wider game - as opposed to SAFC. (A1 heading North, just shy of Morpeth).
I was on my way home from a 300-mile round trip to see a home game at the SoL and I was not happy. We had drawn with Liverpool (not bad you say) but had the misfortune to witness an abysmal performance by one of the game’s top attractions. A player who spent the entire game (and possibly the warm up) whingeing, niggling, falling over and generally irritating all and sundry. If anyone was going to score that day it was him, and he did, in front of me in the North Stand, wheeling away kissing his wristbands seeking adulation. I give you Luis Suarez, undoubtedly a talented player but what an obnoxious person.
My thought processes driving home went along the lines. He earns more in a week than I do in two or three years, no matter how small a contribution my gate money makes to the salaries of people like him I was no longer prepared to do it, last game as a paying spectator after some 50 odd years (and some years were really odd as folk my age will be aware).
Once on a downer about the beautiful game (hasn’t been a ‘game’ for long enough and I wouldn’t call it beautiful anymore either) other pet hates came bubbling up, in no particular order.
Despite a few interesting recent articles on loan players, I’m not really a fan especially when Premier League teams loan players to another Premier League team. I just don’t think it’s fair. A young player is farmed out to learn his trade (make his mistakes, miss his chances) without harming the prospects of his home club. Then when the two meet the player has to be left out potentially disrupting a settled formation and benefitting his owners. We have benefitted from premier players coming to the SoL, a few highlighted recently. But when you look at a team like Chelsea this system allows them to hoover up young talent from around the leagues and loan them out to learn their trade before either recalling them as future first teamers or (more apparently) giving them a couple of Premier League cameos before selling them on at inflated fees (Dijolobodji anybody Chelsea signed for £2.7m loaned him to Germany, gave him one game and sold him to us for £8m!). At one point Chelsea had 31 players out on loan. Wrong.
Agents were a target for me in the very early days of the Wise Men Say fanzine (printed version). Didn’t see the need for them then and see less need for them now. It is especially galling now that clubs pay agents as well as the (inflated) transfer fees to secure the services of a player. If a player wants a representative, well and good pay him yourself but the thought of the buying and selling club chipping in as well beggars belief (and again back to the point of (albeit a minuscule amount) some of my money going there). As for super agents making millions over one deal, they should be treated the same as hospital superbugs and eradicated (legally please) as soon as. I see UEFA are sniffing around here so good luck there then (they started 3 years ago). Even Spurs pulled out of a deal recently because of the fee the agent was demanding.
International breaks - well sorry but give me a break. Partly because we seem to slump after every such break what are there so many for and who needs the Nations League on top of the World Cup and Euros? (Scotland I hear you shout). Sorry, football started simply with local teams challenging the next village/town/community to a match which has evolved into the league structures we have today. My club is why I follow football; really not that bothered about England and I don’t think they are about the North East either. Too many unnecessary extra games in the season now. And don’t get me started on an expanded Champions League with a proposed third European club competition. All this from clubs with massive squads of internationals moaning about fixture congestion and needing a winter break. Not to relax and get ready to go again but to go to the middle east (other lucrative midwinter venues are available) and earn a few more coins for the coffers.
Player’s salaries. I suppose this point links back into the start of this diatribe. Not sure where to start here for the most part it is a short career, but when a player is paid in a week enough money to hire 20 NHS workers for a year you have to wonder. And I see now that UEFA are looking to revise FFP rules and regulations (no doubt to the benefit of rich clubs, revise potentially meaning scrap).
In all of this negativity (to which can be added moaning pundits and unbalanced TV coverage) there has to be something positive to which I give you VAR.
The one bright light of being where we are is VAR and that we don’t have it. It’s a shambles causing more arguments than it was brought in to sort out. If we have to tinker with the rules - offside, handball, to reduce the VAR controversies then that should tell folk where the problem actually lies. Fallible as they are leave it up to the officials. If we persist with VAR then adopt the cricket and rugby approach where the on field decision holds sway and a valid reason has to be found to overturn it. The officials should invoke VAR not the other way round.
There are two circumstances which will tempt me back to attending and paying to watch. One may come sooner than the other (next season all being well); I’d like to see Sunderland take on the Tricky Blues of Cardiff where I spent several happy years on the away terraces with my sons. Last time I saw them play each other was an FA Cup second replay at Maine Road (1-3) years ago.
The other circumstance would be a European tie against Cowdenbeath. (Just goes to show, we can all dream).