McCormick’s Craic: SAFC, Man City, Southport, Liverpool et al alienating the grass roots?

The decision by our club to send a threatening letter to The Fort has drawn widespread criticism from a huge majority of supporters, writes Malcolm Dawson.

It seems ludicrous to us that employees of the club can’t distinguish between fans displaying their loyalty for the team they love and commercial enterprises trying to rip off the public by pretending that they are somehow an official part of SAFC. It is obvious to us that there is a huge difference between someone purporting to be an official outlet, supplying officially endorsed goods and services from someone demonstrating an open display of affection for the club he or she supports, often through the purchase of replica shirts at rip off prices and other goods via the club shop and website.

I myself have an SAFC credit card and each time I use it the club receives a small amount. When I use it to buy tickets or items in the club shop it gets a double benefit. A few years ago Salut!Sunderland had to remove the official club badge from this very website. That’s annoying but fair enough and it is reasonable that the club does not want the users of the world wide web to assume this site is in any way official. 4

But do the executives of the club really think that supporters go to The Fort, The Howard Arms, The Wheatsheaf, The Colliery Tavern, The Jacksons, The New Derby, The Kings Arms etc. and all the clubs in and around the town instead of using the Black Cats Bar, thinking they are official club outlets? A little common sense wouldn’t go amiss and perhaps the club should remember all the free publicity it gets from its fans who always seems to display their flags right in front of the TV cameras at international games, Test matches and other high profile sporting events all around the world. John McCormick adds his weight to the furore and sees it as just another example of business people who have cut their teeth in the commercial world failing to appreciate the passion and loyalty which football clubs attract and insurance companies and supermarkets don’t.

Follow this official link and explain how this can be posted in the same week as “Fortgate”?

John McCormick - another journey into the past

John writes:

This piece is written in response to my total disgust at SAFC’s desist order sent to the Fort and if ALS was right this morning, to other establishments in the area. I can’t believe any community-minded organisation (which I believe the club to be) can be so stupid. I do wonder if this is just the work of an idiot who has been left off the leash and who will shortly be reined back in by those with a bit of sense as well as more business acumen.

However I fear I’m wrong and that here is an example of yet another club that is losing sight of its origins and its fans. The grassroots of football are, I fear, being trodden into the ground and I don’t mean by just the bigger clubs.

Take, for example, Southport v Gateshead this season. I had every intention of going. I can get to Southport from home in about 90 minutes and then, as it’s a fair walk, take a bus to the ground. This is where the problems began. I’m not too familiar with the buses and would have needed to leave enough time to get from the railway station to the ground – let’s say 30 minutes. Any more or less travel time just affects the opportunity for a pre or post match drink and the chance to catch up with a couple of mates. But then came the fixture list – the game was being played on a Tuesday night, with a 7.45 kick-off.

See also/ Monsieur Salut’s thoughts on Fort Knocks at ESPN –

Sorry, boys, I’ll have to leave home at an awkward time and won’t have time for a post-match beer unless I risked missing the last train home. So it was a no-go for me, and how many Gateshead fans were unwilling to commit to a four-hour trip for an evening match? I’m not sure if there’s an answer, but if the match had kicked off at 3pm, even during the week, I’d have been there.

Then came our game against Man City. There was a time when I could get on a train, get off, walk to a ground, pay money at a turnstile and go in. I think it’s still possible in some places. (Everton and the SOL, for instance) but not at Man City, as far as I could tell. Their website sent me all over the place in search of tickets. It looked like I could get some if I became a member, which entailed registering, providing credit card details and entering into some kind of commitment or go through some kind of agent for a resale. I didn’t want any of that and in the end I didn’t bother. Lucky me – partly because I didn’t have to witness our defeat first hand and partly because it left me £42 better off, which will provide me with 15 gallons of beer courtesy of a very friendly home-brew shop.

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Between these two games I had one of my bright ideas. How about watching the development team (how I hate that phrase) if they came down and played Liverpool? I know not all such games are open to the public but if this one was I’d be willing to give it a shot. Liverpool have played reserve games in a different venues in recent years including their academy, Tranmere and Widnes, all of which are relatively easy to reach. So off I headed to the LFC website only to find that, like most club websites these days, it appears designed to extract cash rather than provide information.

There’s nothing to indicate where reserve/development squad matches might take place. Perhaps that’s because they don’t know, but I’d like to think they were better organised than that would suggest. So I tried to e-mail the club. This entailed competing an-online form for which name, address, e-mail and even mobile phone details were obligatory. The reply I got told me that information about these matches was on their website. I e-mailed back to say the information I wanted wasn’t, and I’ve since had a response telling me these matches are all pay on the gate. But where are they? I still don’t have a clue. But that wasn’t the only reply I got. Apparently an account has been opened for me. How about that then? Can you imagine how unimpressed I am? I haven’t even bothered to open the e-mail to find out what having an account means. Possibly I’ll receive e-mails telling me of future games but I doubt it. Let’s wait and see.

And there the story ends – for the time being. All being well I’ll manage to get to Goodison and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get off the train at Wigan and stroll to the ground, calling in for some refreshment on the way before paying at the turnstile.

But I think, when it comes to going to the so-called big clubs, and even some of the smaller ones like Southport, I’m not prepared to make the effort any more. It’s about time clubs realised there’s more than one way to lose at football.

3 thoughts on “McCormick’s Craic: SAFC, Man City, Southport, Liverpool et al alienating the grass roots?”

  1. Apologies that with two threads covering the same topic, there is some duplication. I have already posted this on the other thread.

    I don’t suppose the Fort is losing money by this deal and no doubt there is a confidentiality clause which prevents Alan and his employees talking to the press about this “development”. It seems significant to me that the Echo hasn’t printed a “club admits they ballsed up” or “Fort can fly the flag” story yet.

    I am an old cynic and I have nothing to support this but I can’t help but have the feeling that some sort of financial deal has been made that ensures the pub won’t be out of pocket. And because it now has an affiliation through the rewards scheme the club can now say publicly that the pub can display their flags, without having to back down and offer a grovelling apology.

    These of course are just my thoughts and if I am wrong will be happy to say so if and when the whole story comes out.

  2. I have just posted this message about a message – at the blackcats email loop …

    … What a clumsy, cack-handed first step [to put things right] . I did a piece at the ESPN site and have now added this comment:

    Since posting the above article ( _), I have come across this story on the official Sunderland website:

    “The club has added another local business to the SAFC Rewards scheme benefitting Black Cats fans. Season Card holders can now save 20% on selected drinks at local public house The Fort in nearby Roker.

    “The latest initiative which is exclusive to season card holders is available at any time of day in The Fort on non-matchdays.

    “The Fort pub which is over 100 years old is popular amongst Black Cats fans and they can now be rewarded for the loyalty to the club with offers in the pub.”

    The Sunderland commercial director Gary Hutchinson is then quoted singing the praises of the scheme. Alan tells them he’s proud. Not the slightest mention is made of the shabby build-up to this announcement.

    I am delighted Alan is happy. It shows he was not bent on conflict but bewildered by the club’s unwarranted aggression. As for the club, one more shot in the foot would emulate those three own goals at home to Charlton in 2003.

    Perhaps the club needs someone to take its public relations policy by the scruff of the neck. I may be open to offers, Mr Short.


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