Let’s all agree on one thing. Social media is a cesspit. The early innocence of sites like Myspace have given way to some frontrunners in terms of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Instagram is a place where narcissism is a prerequisite, Facebook allows people to demonstrate how perfect their lives are even if that isn’t the case and then there’s Twitter.
Twitter is the dark realms of social media. Occasionally amusing, occasionally informative, often ruthless. This, of course, is not peculiar to Wearside and it even stretches beyond the realms of South Tyneside, County Durham or wherever the Sunderland fans happen to choose to live. The cesspit is global. Social media allows people to construct an ideal of themselves or provide a voice which would otherwise be silenced out of respect. You will say things on social media that you would never say to somebody’s face. Keyboard warriors are just a few clicks away from causing somebody distress. What does this have to do with us being stuck in League One with no prospect of escape and a grim horizon in front of us? Well, everything apparently.
In December last year a joint statement was released by Wise Men Say, Roker Report, ALS and Red and White Army. It called for change. It reminded Stewart Donald that he had said when he wasn’t wanted anymore then he would go. The support behind the statement on social media was evident, as was the disagreement. The fact is that each of these groups were and remain supporters of Sunderland football club with no claim to represent fans. Time has ticked on and we now remain in League One, players have gone, academy prospects have been sold, season cards have been abandoned and a chasm has opened up between the supporters and the owners who were the subject of the December statement. The parachute payments that were loaned to Madrox to purchase the club remain outstanding. Actually, that isn’t strictly true. The debt owed by Madrox to Sunderland is no longer on the books. Effectively Madrox could never pay that back without recourse. We have had the investment of £9m from Madrox that was funded by (we think) a loan from some Americans who, if Madrox fail to pay, are entitled to the assets of the club.
At Thursday’s fan/club meeting many of us were expecting assurances. Some were still hopeful that some good news would come out. Perhaps an opportunity to engage with the fans would be seized. Broken promises should have told us otherwise. I won’t go into the inconsistencies that have spewed forth from the broken PR machine at the club as this has been done in great detail by many before me, but we should have seen this one coming. BLC and RAWA had not been invited to a discussion on how bridges could be built or wounds could be healed; they had been invited to an audience with Stewart Donald whereby he would detail everything that the fanbase had done wrong and how they needed to behave in the future.
It started with a plea of how tough it had been to secure a sale during the pandemic (not Stewart’s fault), he explained that a trust made up of supporters investing £1,000 in a working class area which has been hit severely by said pandemic could quite easily buy the club. Stewart Donald spoke about the money he has given to the foundation, the kits he has donated, the money to a foodbank. Why don’t the fan groups ever talk about that? There’s a simple answer to that. It’s because we all do it too. Fair enough we haven’t got £100,000 to put into the Foundation, but anyone who has been there on matchday can see how busy it gets with fans spending their money. These are fans who have been through the mill with their club who have cheaper alternatives in terms of matchday food and drink but choose to go to the Foundation. These are fans who donate regularly to food banks which are an unfortunate necessity in a city which is, on the whole, deprived. However, if you’ve got a spare £1,000 knocking around, Stewie wants a chat with you and 36,999 other people.
I cannot and will not condone any level of personal abuse at the owner or his family. I dislike him, I would tell him that to his face, but I do not dislike him as a person. I dislike what he has turned our club into. That is very different from personal insults. In fact at my father’s last game before he died Stewart Donald kindly came to see him and talked to him about football. He seemed a very affable man. Similarly when the RAWA flag volunteers who set up the display in the Roker End were invited into the Sports Bar before the game as a thanks for their efforts throughout the season there was nothing but praise and gratitude from Stewart Donald. He seems like a very nice man. The fact that when he was talking football with my dad and said, after Maja had scored in the first half, “that’s put a few more quid on his price tag” is neither here nor there.
The narrative behind all this is akin to Bannon and Cummings. It’s a clear tactic of divide and conquer. The notes of the meeting set BLC up as perfect examples for the troublesome RAWA to follow. The same RAWA who set up the flags, commissioned the murals, engaged with the club on how to improve the fan experience? The same RAWA who were invited into the Sports Bar by Stewart Donald as thanks to the volunteers who were doing their bit? Is that the fans group that is “hell bent” on finding out where the parachute payments have gone? I hope so, because if fans stop caring about where money that is the club’s money has gone and debts owed by owners to the club are written off then it’s all over. Good on you RAWA if that is you. Stewart Donald said people outside of his house were there following a tweet from a RAWA committee member. Perhaps. Does that mean that a Sunderland fan, any Sunderland fan, is now not allowed to say anything critical about the running of their club? Is there a direct correlation between the unnamed committee member sending a tweet and people being outside Stewart Donald’s house?
The plea here was clearly Stewart Donald trying to stop personal abuse and I can understand that, but for the love of God, if Twitter can’t stop racists being racists then how the hell does he expect RAWA to stop Sunderland fans getting angry at the shitshow they see before them, that shithouse that SD has made worse?
That said, we are reminded every now and again that actions on social media can have a deep impact on those targeted. That’s why the #bekind thing started in light of the suicide of Caroline Flack. Social media can be vicious. It is even more surprising that in the light of the pleas for abuse to end Stewart Donald named one individual Sunderland supporter who cares about his club and told him to shut up and get his facts straight.
If he believes that then fair enough, but to come out and say it in a meeting where he knew the notes were going to be made public is hypocritical at best. It is certainly deeply unprofessional. To silence critics is normally an indication that you are culpable of something that needs criticising. Stewart Donald owes Chris Weatherspoon an apology. Unfortunately, I think that is less likely than Stewart Donald getting a fake tan, shouting fake news and pronouncing “China” in a very odd way. You said you would leave when you were no longer welcome, that time is now.