Birflatt Boy pulls no punches. Monsieur Salut may have urged caution on SAFC’s inability so far to announce a single new acquisition, amid rumours that this or that target could end up elsewhere, but our hard-hitting contributor defends the right to aim robust criticism at the club we love …
What does it mean to be a Sunderland supporter? I’ve always regarded it as a lifelong lesson in humility, and in so many ways. After all, there’s never that much to get really excited about is there?
As the number of blogs and fan sites has propagated it’s become a lot easier to access and understand the widespread and perhaps not so widespread mix of opinion and attitude held by fans of any club, on just about anything. We all love SAFC, but have different ways of expressing that devotion, I suppose.
On some sites today you’d find some of our fans enthusing about the positives of signing players like Liam Ridgewell and David Ngog.
If I were a fan of, say, Wigan or Swansea I don’t think that my cap would be flying through the air at the prospect of cheering these boys on next season. Cold rice pudding or last Friday’s fish would hardly be less appetising.
There is one thing that has really struck me in recent years, and that is the rift which appears very quickly between our fans when any criticism is aimed towards the club, manager, chairman or players.
There may be few issues which unite all of us, but I am constantly disappointed by the mantra of “just get behind the team” or “you’re just like that lot up the road” when someone’s credentials or performances are called into question.
I’ve never been able to understand why criticism of players or managers who frequently fall way short of what’s reasonably expected should be received in such a negative fashion. Blind and unrelenting faith is the alternative which is as close as to stupidity as you can officially get without resorting to some form of psychological assessment.
It’s as if criticism through the written word will automatically transcend into name calling from the stands, booing and generally getting on players’ backs.
All too often, the result of legitimate comment and questioning is a response that, in its own way, impunes the integrity and allegiance of the questioner.
Personally I had little faith in Bob Murray, and I had even less in his predecessor Tom Cowie. Did that mean I had deserted the club? Of course not. In many ways it reinforced my support during a (lengthy) period when I was convinced neither of these chairman had the wit, intelligence, contacts or other attributes with which they could raise the fortunes of SAFC beyond the mediocre.
By and large, my lack of faith in those custodians of our beloved club was proved justified as – two decent finishes under Peter Reid excepted – mediocrity became our byword. Substitute the term “lack of faith” with “expectation” and Niall Quinn’s personal albatross has been the weight of expectation that increased when he took the helm.
Let’s take the Quinn example further. The burden of expectation that he carries is the price of the “faith” we have all bestowed upon him, to a greater or lesser extent.
For some, Quinn’s actions are beyond question. For the more intelligent fans (and Salut! Sunderland shows that SAFC have a great many), judgement on performances, behaviour and appointments falls directly or indirectly upon that chairman; he or she carries not only the weight of expectation, but also the responsibility and authority to manage outcomes that meet those expectations. To accept blindly, without question, is a notion belonging to the Middle Ages, as puerile as it is out moded.
That brings me to the question of “cause and effect”.
There are those who argue against debate on forums such as Salut! Sunderland, in the mistaken belief that negative comment will somehow translate itself into an evil curse that hampers the performance of individuals or indeed the team if “we don’t get behind them”.
For those misguided fools (thankfully few in number), “Getting behind the team” is actually what most of us have done over the course of our lives. And let me tell them this: it makes not one iota of difference to outcome. Not a jot.