For most proper supporters of Sunderland, or indeed any other club, the commitment is unconditional. We may be scattered around the world, and the team/s we follow may experience varying fortunes, but we broadly want the same thing, week after week: success at whatever level we happen to be playing.
Younger Sunderland fans have known only the Premier League and upper end of the division below. The codgers have seen the old Third Division for one season and been close enough to another dose. Our allegiance has survived intact, and would do so again in the event of yet another relegation.
Years ago, Sir Tim Rice said in his celebrity supporter interview for the London & SE SAFC supporters’ newsletter, then called 5573, and later reproduced here, that while he had no Mackem roots, he could not imagine being a fan of Man Utd or Liverpool unless he had grown up in Manchester or on Merseyside.
So we are, despite Steve Bruce’s complaints about lofty expectations, a fairly realistic bunch. We do not truly see the top four as attainable in the short term or perhaps ever But when we see our club given healthy investment, we do feel entitled to regard the upper half of the Premier, high enough to challenge for a place in European competition, as a perfectly reasonable aspiration.
And the blunt truth, on which the club should now be prepared to steel itself to act, is that under Steve Bruce, we have shown little sign of realising that modest goal.
Forget the cauldron of negativity. The greater criticism of Salut! Sunderland earlier in the season was that it – or, let us be honest, two of its main writers – had failed to see sense. Please do not ask for an apology: I felt a 10th top finish last May, slightly fortunate as it may have been after a dismal second half of the season, was a creditable achievement. Bruce had earned the chance to move forward with his own team.
When he complained about “hysteria” after the disappointing start to this season, I instinctively sided with him. As the disappointments piled up, I urged a sense of proportion and, with a relatively undemanding run of games ahead, a little patience. Even when I found myself being ushered towards a perch on the fence in the Bruce In/Bruce out debate, I was determined to await the results he might achieve up to the end of November.
My hopes were, of course, forlorn. It was not so much that the fence suddenly collapsed beneath me in one heap, more than the panels and posts had been carried off one by one until nothing was left.
Media reports talk of Bruce still having one or two games to turn things around. But there is no longer any point in putting off the big decision until this winnable match away, or that one at home. Six points from Wolves (a) and Blackburn (h) will not construct a new fence for me, let alone sweep me back to other, Bruce In side.
Two wins and five draws from 13 games, plus an ignoble exit from the Carling Cup, would be bad enough in any circumstances. We cannot even claim to have had the most challenging of starts. Wins in the next two games would merely paper over cracks.
Bruce may have been unlucky. I have speculated in the past that Niall Quinn and/or Ellis Short may have forced his hand on key decisions, the unbelievably foolish sale of Darren Bent without replacement, the acquiescence to Gyan’s money-driven folly (again without replacement) and the failure to inject wage-costly creativity into midfield.
But he can only be judged on results. They have been abysmal for the best part of a year and no sustained improvement seems likely with the gaps in our present squad and his own glaring shortcomings as a motivator and reader of games.
Look at your own lives. Whether you are studying or in employment, would you have survived the equivalent of Bruce’s record as manager of Sunderland AFC since New Year’s Day?
I insist on a replacement being ready or nearly ready to take over, and in there being demonstrable evidence that his appointment represents real progress. I also expect him to have resources to plug those gaps we know exist.
But with the deepest of regret, since I consider Steve Bruce to be a decent man who has done his best to succeed at the Stadium of Light, change is no longer optional but a necessity.