Sounds like one of those grim Daily Mail confessionals its female feature writers seem to be obliged by contract to write. In fact, it’s our own esteemed deputy editor, Malcolm Dawson, explaining a momentous decision. Malcolm remains a fervent Sunderland supporter, as he’s been all his life. He’s still deputy editor, thank heavens, and he’s even information officer for the Heart of England branch of the SAFCSA, which he helped to found, despite having moved back to Co Durham. Let him explain what he is not …
The furore regarding the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as manager caused many left wing thinking Sunderland fans to examine their principles and question their willingness to renew their season cards. But not me.
I had in fact decided not to renew my season ticket whilst Martin O’Neill was still in charge, cancelling my direct debit well before the home defeat to Manchester United. In fact I have my suspicions that whilst results and lack of vision inevitably played their part in O’Neill’s dismissal, it was the threat of mass season card cancellations that was the final nail in his coffin.
Pre-season sales might not mean so much these days in terms of a club’s overall income, but the lack of guaranteed financial commitment and useful money up front, combined with a lower home attendance and subsequent lack of atmosphere, must inevitably give cause for concern.
My reasons for not renewing were varied. Missing one game because of a family wedding and two others when I had commitments in other parts of the country immediately wiped out any savings I would have made by obtaining tickets on a match by match basis. Added to that was the fact I could have gone to three of those games for £10 each and I had actually spent considerably more than I might have done by having a season card. It just didn’t make financial sense to renew.
Then there was my seat. I spent all season listening to the constant invectives of the persistent whiner behind me and his thirteen year old apprentice, who were experts in finding the negatives, even when the team was playing well. Unfortunately with O’Neill in charge there was plenty to whinge about, but having to suffer poor performances with those two behind made the uncomfortable excruciating.
Also, I was on the end of a row and with the blokes to my right arriving late and leaving early each half, going to the loo or for another pint while the game was in play, I was bobbing up and down at least thirty times each match. With my knees I can do without that.
But my reasons were more deep rooted than that. I’m not the only regular visitor to this site who looks back at the pre-Sky days with nostalgia and it’s not just the vast sums players earn these days. There was a time when a football club was just that and the objective was to win trophies. Those who were in charge of the clubs were on the whole local businessmen, some of whom may not have known much about football and were after a bit of local status, but generally speaking were part of the community and wanted success for the club. Look at how much the 73 Cup win still means to us. Nowadays finishing fourth or avoiding relegation, are seen as more important than winning the “greatest knock out trophy in the world.”
It seems to me that nowadays football is seen as a way for (in the main) wealthy foreigners to add to their business portfolio, juggling money, saving tax, investing for financial gain or whatever and the needs of the average fan come way down the list of priorities. Extortionate ticket prices, inconvenient kick off times which are changed at the drop of a hat, lack of feeling for tradition (Cardiff’s red shirts and Ashley’s crass renaming of St James’ Park for example) with little thought given to the views of its fans that the two way loyalty that existed is being diluted. Fans stay true to their club but in recent seasons, that loyalty appears to be appreciated less and less and is not returned.
But for me the bottom line was value for money. Football is seen now by the club owners and media as another part of the entertainment industry so I ought to expect entertainment for my hard earned cash.
Last season (not for the first time) I simply wasn’t getting that. Why, I asked myself, spend upwards of £30 a match being bored, frustrated and disappointed when for the same amount I could take in the rough and tumble of the Northern League, a visit to the Sage or the theatre or a few pints and a visit to a folk club or a host of other alternatives? Once again, last season saw me questioning the wisdom of committing myself to ten months of disappointment and frustration.
And then along came Paolo. Up until now I haven’t made my thoughts public on his appointment but some of his well documented political statements made me uneasy.
I have to say I thought the club handled his appointment badly and were unprepared for the reaction to it. Had they and the new manager made the statement they made later in the week much earlier, I believe the controversy could have been minimised. I’m not one to say that politics has no part in sport. I believe that the anti-apartheid movement and its sporting boycotts accelerated the changes in South Africa. I also observe the hypocrisy of those who use that argument, for example ignoring the treatment of Basil D’Oliveira whilst supporting cricket tours of South Africa years ago or calling for James McClean’s sacking whilst using the “politics has no place in sport” argument to back the signing of Di Canio in more recent times.
I try hard to be consistent in my approach to political issues so when I was asked on a radio phone-in if there would have been the same outcry had the club appointed a known Communist, my reply was that there probably wouldn’t have been but if they appointed a known Stalinist I would expect a similar reaction.
I can understand McClean’s refusal to wear a shirt with a poppy on, bearing in mind his background, so it would be disingenuous of me not to apply the same logic to our current manager. I’ll accept him and continue to support the club as, whatever he has said and done in the past, he is there to do a job in which his personal heroes ought to be irrelevant and which the club should monitor.
It is Ellis Short, Margaret Byrne et al who should determine the image which the club promotes and I would expect them to ensure it is a positive one. I notice that Swindon Town however have just settled out of court with Paul Boden who was suing them citing mistreatment by our new manager.
But what can’t be denied is the breath of fresh air he and the rest of the new backroom staff have brought to the club. Dropping Bardsley for the Spurs game, the threat to players coming back overweight, the promise of a new work ethic and of course a whole raft of new signings fills me with optimism for the coming campaign. Of course, having seen my first Sunderland game 49 years ago I am accustomed to new dawns and the subsequent reality that optimism can be unjustified.
So I’m hoping that this really is the start of a new era but I’ll reserve my judgement on the new look Sunderland until I am certain there is improvement. What is certain though, is that despite my reservations and the thoughts of giving up watching Sunderland I was having before the Man Utd game, I’ll be there on August 17 and right behind the team.
Ha’way the Lads.
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