The exchange covered cheating, money, arrogance, role models and recent controversies concerning Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney.
Mark wrote this:
Been feeling pretty sickened with football since the weekend. Our result was bad enough, but totally expected. But the carry-on with Rooney has just left me completely scunnered with the way the game is going. SIr Alex’s defence of him was totally unacceptable. I’m sick of these pampered w***ers getting away it. He should have been hit with an eight-game ban but instead the ref is chuckling away with him and they’re having a cuddle. Young kids still look up to this excuse of a man. He’s a disgrace – but he’s not the only one. The whole English team is so out of touch it’s frightening. Ashley Cole … shoots a work experience kid (see Comments). What the f**k is going on with these a***holes. Players get paid far too much money and the sooner something is down about it the better … the game is getting out of control. Where is the sportsmanship? Where are the gentlemen of the game? Where is the humour? It’s utter bollocks.
To which Andy, exiled in Australia, replied:
Couldn’t agree more Mark. If it wasn’t for Sunderland AFC I would have turned my back on the game before now! I just can’t do that though, Sunderland means too much. Sometimes that p***es me right off and I curse my family history, but after a few days of sulking and being a miserable twat I pep back up and defend them to the hilt! Like most of us no doubt …
I’ve been enjoying watching the rugby lately, more so than football, and with Melbourne now having its own Super Rugby team its made it easier to turn my attention to another, seemingly more professional and respectful, sport!. The fact that England are doing well in the 6 Nations helps!!
The obvious causes of their disenchantment are no longer fresh in the memory.
The investigation trundles on into Ashley Cole’s handling – I stand corrected by Sir Cecil on detail (see comments) – of an airgun someone had taken to the training ground and, however accidentally, his firing of it, injuring a work experience student.
I had to look up the name of the Wigan player (James McCarthy) who became more acquainted with Rooney’s elbow than he might have chosen. And Sunderland’s hopeless failure at Goodison has been followed by a resilient, heartening draw at the Emirates.
But the root causes of our concern remain. Football is awash with cheating, tacitly or expressly encouraged by managers and inadequately punished by the authorities. I still wince when I think back to Titus Bramble’s sly pull of Arshavin’s arm which, much more than the follow-up push he made no effort to conceal, marred the joy I took in our draw at Arsenal (and in Bramble’s own, otherwise impressive contribution to the point).
But the woes do not end with getting away with whatever you can.
Football has numerous other matters that ought to be addressed but probably won’t: grotesque transfer fees and wages paid, often for really quite unremarkable levels of talent, for example, or ordinary supporters finding themselves priced out of attendance at games.
It is good that Niall Quinn, a chairman who makes mistakes but is a noble ambassador for SAFC, caring deeply about the club that “got under my skin”, its supporters and the area of the country in which it is based, should have given voice to some of the reasons that our affection for football is under threat.
He is quoted as telling the House of Commons Select Committee inquiry into football governance that even big clubs such as Sunderland need help if they are to balance the books while making it less expensive for fans to attend games.
I believe he was going some way further than asking for action to block illegal – or soon to be, perhaps, less illegal – live broadcasts in pubs and clubs of the sort that cost SAFC thousands of pounds in unsold tickets for each game.
If it was just some kind of begging bowl being pushed towards government, it would of course be returned empty.
But Niall went on: “I think we should all look for something that says ‘How can we help this group of people out to still stay in love with the game?’, because if we send the matches abroad with empty stadiums, it’s over, the Premier League is over.
“These [people] are the lifeblood of the game. How do we protect these [people]? All revenue that comes in, the agents have the upper hand to squeeze it out of us.
“How can we stop that? How can we find a better way for these people to love the game? These are the same people who tell us to ‘get your chequebook out’, want us to be top six. They’re also saying now ‘you’re paying too much money. This is wrong’. But they’re also saying ‘can we go to the matches a bit cheaper?'”
Nothing will be solved simply by curbing the more outrageous activities of agents. Every pub screen could be removed without making the many problems of football vanish.
But it is good that SAFC have a figurehead whose views are taken seriously enough to warrant an invitation to speak to people with influence in the way the country is governed.
One of the key drawbacks to any campaign to clean up the game and give it back its common appeal is that most of the measures demanded by supporters are unlikely to be taken.
Which of the following does anyone seriously expect to happen?
* the return of standing areas at stadiums
* agreement by television moguls not to make late changes to fixture times whatever the impact on the pockets of ordinary people
* an all-out war on cheating with severe penalties for perpetrators and those directing them
* sensible – ie affordable – pricing policies if that also means more reasonable – ie lower – rates of pay for players and managers
* greater attention to the needs of people paying those high prices to travel to and attend games
* absolute parity in disciplinary matters so that “big clubs” and their players are seen to be treated no differently than smaller fry (eg a weakened Man Utd team at Hull taken as seriously as Blackpool’s at Villa)
The list could be extended and Salut! Sunderland readers may well have pet issues they feel I have overlooked.
But don’t hold your breath for change – or, at any rate, any change not forced on football – actually to take place.