Among all the responses to the Salut! Sunderland piece on Theo Walcott’s admission that he had dived in the hope of stealing a penalty, this struck me as a genuinely nice – and totally unrelated – line from Matthew Wade, an Arsenal fan: “The mighty Quinn still has an element of cult-hero-ness down here.”
Sunderland supporters, of course, have huge affection for big Niall. For many, it’s practically a love story in which both parties show commitment and loyalty.
As with most relationships, of course, there are downs as well as ups, with faults on both sides. Niall wasn’t much of a manager, he escaped by the skin of his teeth after at first failing to make proper replacement for Roy Keane and he occasionally gets a call wrong.
I am fairly sure he would thank no one for thrusting sainthood upon his shoulders. But we all know the pluses massively outweigh the odd negative: fabulous player for us, worth at least 50 per cent of the great partnership with SuperKev, passionate about his adopted area, part of a superb leadership striving to bring real succes to Sunderland AFC.
He is also highly articulate in a sport where we sometimes look to men from outside the English-speaking world to express themselves well in our own language.
Which makes it all the more surprising that Niall should have chosen the word “despise” to describe people who stay away from the Stadium of Light and watch games instead in pubs showing dodgy channels from overseas.
He has every right to be concerned. The losses for each home game run into many thousands of pounds. After what had been a good run, the Chelsea game should have drawn close to a sell out crowd, not a measly 38,000; the game was not televised in the ordinary way but it is a fair bet that many pubs on Wearside managed to screen it from whatever foreign channel they could find.
Over to Niall:
”I would never criticise anyone who doesn’t come to the stadium because of financial constraints, but I despise those who spend far more than the price of a ticket watching some overseas commentator describing the action at the nearby Stadium of Light.”
Well for a start, you’d have to sink an awful lot of ale to spend more than even the very reasonable prices charged at the SoL (starting at £23 and £29 for adults for the Spurs and Liverpool home games).
Many of us still feel there is nothing to compare with the stadium experience. The sad truth is that there are plenty of people who do consider themselves supporters but greatly prefer the pub option, spending maybe a tenner on drinks, than attending the game, especially if they cannot afford seats with better views. And since going to the pub is not yet an unlawful activity, they can hardly be blamed if the pub sticks a Sunderland game on the big screen.
Niall still has a point; it is disappointing that so many fans who could get to the ground, and would not be left destitute by buying tickets, choose instead to watch currently illegal broadcasts down the pub.
But is despise – see the harsh definition above – really the right word? If it is precisely what Niall meant, that would also be something of a disappointment. I just hope he meant something less severe.