Roy Keane thought we were outstanding against Arsenal yesterday, and Salut! Sunderland is inclined to agree. But first it has something it needs to get off its chest….
At least once a year, a good Friend in the North declares that he’s had enough of the money-drenched, elitist, screw-the-fans game and won’t be renewing his season ticket come summer.
So far he has always succumbed to the pull of lifelong devotion and accepted the creeping nastiness of football as a price he’s still prepared to pay for keeping the faith and maintaining his love affair with Sunderland AFC. This season, he’s said it again, and early enough to make you think his disenchantment may just about be complete.
I leave it to my pal to decide whether to expand on that summary of his position. But in a modest contribution to the debate on whether those involved in running modern clubs are routinely, or increasingly, excluding fans from meaningful engagement – beyond gleefully taking their money, of course – the case of Salut! Sunderland, Birmingham City and Kevin Phillips may be worth considering.
Many readers of this site, by definition the sort of committed supporters who used to be seen as the lifeblood of football clubs, enjoy the Who Are They? feature. Before each game, a fan of the opposing team is invited to supply a preview.
The series has produced some gems, from the whimsy of top professional writers (examples: Neil Darbyshire on Boro, Nick Britten on Derby, James Langton on Arsenal) to outstanding nostalgia or raw passion from ardent fans (“Equinox” on Portsmouth, Bernard Ramsdale on Wigan). None has been paid, and none asked for payment.
What a neat idea it would be, I thought, to get Kevin Phillips to preview Aston Villa v SAFC or SAFC v Arsenal. He played for Villa and supported Arsenal as a lad. I naturally didn’t expect that he would find time to sit down and write a proper introductory article, too, and made it clear to the press office at Birmingham City, now SuperKev’s club, that I’d happily settle for quick answers to maybe 10 questions.
Knowing his affection for the club and the fans who – and I believe I am speaking for the vast majority – so admired what he did for SAFC, I felt he might just be willing. Had he let me know via the press office that he really didn’t fancy it, that he’d moved on but thanks for asking, that would have been readily understood. This piece would not have been written. But there is not the slightest sign that the request was even put to him.
At first Birmingham City did not bother to reply. Though my e-mail was sent on Sept 13, and was to my certain knowledge received, it sat in the inbox until it was essentially too late for either game. So I rang. A woman in the press office was pleasant and chatty, and said the request would be considered for another appropriate game later in the season (the returns against Villa and Arsenal, or the WBA matches). To be fair, she sounded doubtful about its prospects of success.
A day or two later, an e-mail arrived from Chris Kershaw, City’s PR and communications officer. Friendly and courteous, it set out the club’s policy – “sadly we are not able to accommodate requests from fans’ sites” – and that, effectively, was that.
Salut! Sunderland is under no illusions about its place in the world. We consistently get respectable numbers of visits (almost always in three figures daily, and sometimes exceeding 500), but we’re small. Some fans’ sites, however, are not, so the BCFC policy of dealing with none of them begins to look harsh in the extreme.
It is not an issue over which I would join forces with my friend and pack my passion away in the loft. Many of you may feel it is not an issue at all, or at least not by comparison with those horrendous, sharp-suit plans to replace the Premier League with a no-promotion-to, no-relegation-from, end-of-football-as-we-know-it superleague for a handful of brands (which is all they would be).
But I do feel it is a subject that must be worth thinking about unless it no longer matters what distance the clubs choose to put between themselves and ordinary supporters. Chris Kershaw, Alec McLeish (manager), and Karren Bardy (managing director) are all assured that Salut! Sunderland would be delighted to grant the right of reply.
Bimingham City’s treatment of this request may well have been no different than the response a similar approach would have received from most leading English clubs. As I pointed out in my e-mail to Chris Kershaw, SAFC even refused point blank to include a footnote reference to Salut! Sunderland in return for a full-page article, plus photographs, written without any payment sought, for the matchday programme (and, accordingly, the last I am ever likely to write!).
If you wish to view the short correspondence between Salut! Sunderland and Birmingham, it can be found here at the overspill site.