The season’s average so far is 38,342 which is 2,000 down on last season even though the quality of football is much higher, the squad stronger and hope at its highest level for 10 years.
No matter that most Premier clubs would dearly love to attract such numbers to their own, mostly inferior stadiums. It is still far too low for Sunderland AFC, especially given the advances that have been made and the money that has been invested.
“I thought if we were in the top half of the Premier League, we would be getting crowds well into the 40,000s, but the reality is we are in the mid-30s,” Niall told the Echo.
“The plan was always to improve and while we are doing that on the pitch, off the pitch the lifeblood of the club is just starting to get to a worrying area. I’m not saying we are perfect, but I always thought I could rely on the support of a massive crowd.”
He pointed out to those – friends included – who found it easier to go to the pub and have a few drinks with their mates and walk home afterwards: “These games are shown illegally.”
Well, that is an issue for the football authorities, and forces of law, to deal with. If the Football Data Co, and SAFC, can be so quick to come down hard on piddling little fansites and fanzines that dare show a club badge, why can’t they tackle real problems as heartily?
The contrasting attitudes actually show a little of what is wrong with the modern game: less than others but still to some extent, Sunderland sometimes shows the ugly face of corporate football, a tendency to take ordinary supporters for granted.
What more could the club be doing to make the matchday experience attractive to the people who currently stay away? Let Salut! Sunderland get the ball rolling:
* improve catering facilities. Not the Premier’s worst by a long chalk, but could be a lot better
* make it possible to visit the club shop without encountering such long queues that you fear you can only complete a purchase if you’re prepared to miss the first 10 minutes of the game
* stand up and be counted in opposing ludicrous kickoff times – home and away. Think, in other words, of the fans who have to travel to such games. There is no reason why TV schedules should require games to start at 1245 and every reason why such a start should cut 3,000 or more off the expected gate
* make it clear that never again will the football club take action against supporters suspected of misconduct but against whom nothing has yet been proved (by all means throw the book at them once that hurdle has been cleared)
Perhaps Salut! Sunderland readers can make a few more suggestions on how Niall Quinn can succeed in drawing more people back to the stadium in what he accepts are economically challenging times.