Gloom descends over the post-Arsenal dinner party


Arsenal fans** will probably not care a hoot, but this part of Salut! Sunderland hopes they have a championship to toast at the end of the season. As for us, the next few games, mostly at home, will define our season, admits Steve Bruce. In how many recent years have we heard a similar refrain? Is it time for Sunderland AFC – and perhaps especially Niall Quinn – to realise the extent to which our collective patience is being tested? …

Whatever they are not, Sunderland fans are realists.

No one looked at the arrival of Ellis Short as owner, or Steve Bruce as manager, and thought: “That’s it. A top four place is there for the taking. This season.”

When Mr Short set a top 10 finish as his target for 2009/2010, and made available large sums of money for Bruce to spend, that seemed reasonable.

As a group of, shall we say, mature SAFC supporters sat down to dinner in a modest London Italian restaurant after the inevitable defeat at the Emirates, there was no talk of the top four, of course. And nor did anyone mention a top 10 finish.

We didn’t even spend much time debating whether Cana or Fabregas or both should have been sent off had Steve Bennett been doing his job properly. But we did discuss that apparent pre-requisite of being a Sunderland fan: the fear of relegation, at least in seasons when we are not piushing for promotion, and the certainty of disappointment.

Yet we thought we’d finally got past the certainty of disappointment that most of us who have supported the club for upwards of 30/40/50 years came to regard as a natural condition. We’d voted Niall/Ellis/Steve and inhaled. Only to be dumped straight down again with February still unfinished.

That we should have reached this state of affairs is little short of an outrage. For all the investment, all the hope and ambition and all the passion and commitment of the fans, we are once more fighting for our lives at the wrong end of the top flight, above the relegation zone only because of Darren Bent’s goals and the inadequacies of our relegation rivals.

Steve Bruce still has Salut! Sunderland‘s support, but that is mainly because it seems the wrong time to make dramatic changes and expect someone else to get his – Steve’s – squad out of trouble.

But if we pick up a lot of points from the forthcoming string of home games and move clear or nearly clear of danger, that will be a reason for relief rather than celebration. I would not be satisfied without such a strong back end of the season that we could look towards August with another burst of irrational optimism.

Football clubs have a way of being somewhat disdainful about the view of ordinary supporters, especially when ordinary supporters choose to give themselves an unofficial but above-the-parapet platform. Niall Quinn, at least, has risen above that approach, in terms of his accessibility to fans.

He needs, all the same, to take heed of the sort of things being said by long-standing, long-suffering and increasingly disillusioned followers of Sunderland AFC.

Consider these comments, taken on Saturday night from the Blackcats list ( a forum to which fans in the UK but also all over the world belong, and where the quality of debate is invariably high):

* First time in ages I’ve plucked up the courage to look at the Premier League table. To my utter amazement we aren’t bottom. I’m still not getting my hopes up though. I’ve allowed this club to dominate my psychological well-being for far too long. This season is just a step too far. The straw that’s broken the camel’s back.”

* Your comments just sum up how I feel as well. I went out to look for bathroom tiles with my wife rather than watch the second half and I didn’t even bother to check the final score.

* Know how you feel, I avoided the game for 25 minutes but sadly I got sucked in again. I think the Premiership in general has been utter garbage this season. So many poor teams, poor games and crap refereeing. I also think it’s pretty clear that Bruce is not going to change our fortunes. I’m not saying he should get sacked tomorrow but if we are looking to progress he’s not the man to do it. Another average manager and I’m starting to get annoyed every time I look at his ugly face. I heard today that we want to buy Marc Wilson from Pompey if they are allowed to sell to ease their problems. Another defender, as if we need another one of those.

It has been worse: some of you will recall this comment, quoted in a recent posting: “What the f*** is the matter with this football club that regardless of players, managers and owners we are perpetual dog w***?”

If Salut! Sunderland can be presumptious and address Niall Quinn, these, Mr Chairman, are the views that should be of enormous concern to you. I have heard similar thoughts from several others.

That London dinner was not totally gloomy, but only because the women present refused to allow the conversation to be dominated by the crisis afflicting our club.

But the men would not be silenced altogether, and talk turned to acquaintances who had been utterly passionate fans of this or that club but suddenly took the decision to break free. It can be done, Niall.

“You know, I really thought that this time it was going to different,” said one of our crowd. “But it begins to make you think whether it’s not time to get a life.”

Colin Randall

Cesc Fabregas
Originally uploaded by wonker

* With thanks to Peadar O’Sullivan for the Niall photo and to “Wonker” for another slice of his Flickr pie, this time capturing the moment we knew we were beaten 2-0 at the Emirates and not deluding ourselves about a stoppage time equaliser.

** And thanks to all the Gooners who have been this way in recent days, whether to engage in pre and post-match banter or to see what Fatima al Shamsi and Chris Borg had to say about their Arsenal passions.

12 thoughts on “Gloom descends over the post-Arsenal dinner party”

  1. Ref David Scott 25th Feb, and the comment “That’s not unique to Sunderland” which is absolutely true, but you are forgetting the nub of the argument in that Sunderland IS unique to it’s supporters, and what other players in other teams do is of no concern , or has no bearing on our situation ……I rest my case.

  2. Well I couldn’t agree more that players are over paid and some of them probably couldn’t care less, however that’s not unique to Sunderland.

  3. As a “mature” supporter since the 60s when my father was the anouncer at Roker Park and king Charlie held court I have been waiting for the faith to be kept year in and year out, and eventually you just get fed up with the same old cliches trotted out by either the manager, or the players week after week after week. Let’s not be fooled at the end of the day it’s down to the players, but would you be that bothered if you were guaranteed a million pounds plus a year for just turning up? i doubt it and until someone instils old fashioned values into these overpriced , whinging “players” believe me we ain’t going nowhere. Take off the blinkers, swallow the pill and vote with your feet we are being conned by greedy people and we deserve better.

  4. You know the comment about Niall Quinn deserving better is very true, he believes in Sunderland, and we are not likely to get another like him, so throwing in the towel and giving up is not going to help that, we have to keep the faith, and trust him to do what’s best for the club! We will turn it round lads!

  5. Nothing really changes in life, we hope and have expectations but at the end of the day if the players don’t perform there’s not much else to say, if you want to be the best you have to put yourself out to be the best, or at least to perform to your best abilities, sadly with this club that never happens, as players arrive much vaunted but when push comes to shove somehow they find excuses for bad performances and we hear the excuses time ,and time again. Like politics it will be jam tomorrow, but never jam today and apart from a couple of outstanding premier league quality players the rest of the bunch are pretty ordinary, but then that’s aways been the case we just don’t like accepting it. Niall Quinn deserves better because he actually loves the club, unfortunately it’ is and always has been a lost cause. . As Len Shackleton once said” the best 11 footballers do not necessarrilly make the best football 11″ He never spoke a truer word.

  6. And how often have we said how important the next home game is? Fulham – probably my last stadium trip before I have to retreat, not as far as Jeremy and Bill and Tony but to the red-and-white Mackem hotbed of France – has that status, and I am already shaking in my boots. My biggest fear is that Fulham, without being very ambitious, will shut us down enough to make our crowd restless in the first half (you can almost hear Hodgson’s pre match talk).

  7. Thankfully I’m in the same position as both Tony and Bill.

    I almost find myself yearning for real mediocrity such as that epitomised by the likes of Owers and Armstrong, Berry and Hetzke. At least back then there was a logic and a reasonable explanation why we were rubbish. It was self evident, and right in front of your eyes. What we are currently witnessing is both inexplicable and unbelievable at the same time. A fortune has been spent by a proven Premier League manager and yet were it not for the massive contribution of Darren Bent we are looking at a bunch of players who are probably performing less effectively than the rag tag army that finished last season under Ricky Sbragia. There’s no excuse and certainly no acceptable explanation that I can see.

  8. I understand the feelings being expressed and I have to admit I feel the same way, however we need to stay resolute and behind the club. The fact is we have a team of people Mr Ellis, Niall and Steve Bruce who have a vision for the club, and are investing to achieve it, which we haven’t had in the past! I believe we will turn it around, and whilst we may not achieve our goal for this season, I strongly believe that Sunderland will continue to improve as a club.

  9. I preferred to watch the cricket on SKY and listen to the horseracing on Sports radio with only the occasional flick over to Soccer Saturday (in the vain hope we would equalise). After 50 years am I finally becoming disillusioned? Sadly, I think I am

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