It’s a familiar question in the ‘Who are You?’ series: what do you think, we ask opposing fans, of Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city and region, David Moyes?
This is how Dale O’Donnell, our Manchester United interviewee (he’s editor of the the Stretty News fan site), replied:
‘Yeah, I thought we looked after you a bit when Steve Bruce was in charge with the likes of Brown and O’Shea. Then your fans took the p*** a bit and Poznan’d at our expense. That has to be one of the worst small-time things I have seen as a football fan, and I highly doubt it will happen this season if Sunderland face the inevitable.’
After reading Dale’s replies, which I generally found thoughtful and knowledgeable, I asked him: ‘… was it more petty to do it, or more petty to take it seriously?’ He generously allowed for ‘a bit of both maybe’
But what better, I thought, with no football until Boxing Day, than to offer you once again Stephen Goldsmith‘s thoughts on the subject. Stephen, you may recall, once graced these pages, which he also used with Gareth Barker to promote and develop the Wise Men Say podcast until they Poznaned off to the brighter lights of ALS. He’s fondly remembered all the same and this is probably the third time his piece, slightly modified, on the subject has had an airing (so apologies if it feels a little familiar and pardon the outdated references to Sir Alex – the thrust of the article remains valid) …
Stephen Goldsmith’s article:
On the final game of the 2012-2013 season the Manchester United fans and players waited in anticipation for the league title to be confirmed; they had beaten Sunderland. But as it was confirmed that Aguero had dramatically saved the day for Manchester City vs QPR, Sunderland fans cheered and a section of the ground proceeded to mock the Manchester United players and fans by acting out this Poznan manoeuvre, an adopted celebration of the Manchester City faithful. Ouch!
Now I’m a Sunderland fan, obviously. Since I have been watching the lads I have witnessed about a billion relegations and on only one of these occasions do I remember not being mocked by the opposition supporters.
The modern generation of Manchester United fans may not know the sensation, but relegation brings a heartbreaking feeling like no other. Lose a title race and you dust yourself down, look to improve and have another go. Being relegated brings with it a whole summer of reflecting on how woefully poor your team have been, followed by the reality of at least a year playing in a league that is weaker and less inspiring. The pain is long-lasting.
Now I know some of the older Sunderland fans (Pete Sixsmith, I’m looking at you) hold a bit of a grudge towards Coventry City following one particular relegation, but that was due to questionable and unethical circumstances that conspired pitchside that day – and in a game Sunderland weren’t directly involved in.
I am not aware of one Sunderland fan that spent the whole of any summer after a relegation bitterly plotting some sort of revenge against the opposition fans who mocked us. I am not aware of any Sunderland fan or news page that would post something like this tweeted image from United fans.
Spelling mistakes aside, I’m not sure if the content of the message is some sort of threat of violence or just a promise that they will beat us when they play us next. Let’s face it, the latter wouldn’t be anything unusual so it’s all a bit mystifying as to what the issue is here why any portion of Salford’s finest are carrying this bitterness.
Now I will take this opportunity to confess that I actually quite like Man Utd; I enjoy watching them represent the Premier League in Europe [like the way Sir Alex seemed to take responsibility for having English players actively involved in his carefully constructed sides]. So as news of the Augero goal reached me in the North Stand, I wasn’t overjoyed or elated.
Once my attention was drawn to the South West corner partaking in this Poznan manoeuvre, I found it highly amusing nonetheless. I can understand the initial frustration and resentment of the Red Army towards the Sunderland fans for rubbing their noses in it, and I can understand the constant abuse that the United faithful hurled our way on fan sites, social network sites and comments sections of articles spread across the internet. But I certainly thought that by mid-July they might just have – what’s the phrase? – got over it.
The durability of their drawn out reaction probably stems from comments made by Sir Alex and Wayne Rooney following Poznangate. At the player awards ceremony Sir Alex did indeed say: “I said those Sunderland fans who were cheering for City, remember the day. We won’t forget that. I am telling you.”
Well that probably explains the inclusion of “we will never forget” and the reasoning behind stating the exact date of the incident in the above image of propaganda garbage. We as fans do tend to hang on to the every word of our managers when things are rosy in the garden, so United fans are always likely to latch on to whatever the great man says.
Their star striker also waded and was quoted as saying: “When the final whistle went, we didn’t really know what the score at City was. But then we heard the Sunderland fans cheering. It was sad to see that because they should be supporting their own team really. They didn’t have the best of seasons so for them to be cheering like that was sad. It was something myself and a lot of the players won’t forget.”
We can all relate to Wayne’s point that fans tend not to get behind their own team as much as they criticise their rivals. Sunderland and Newcastle supporters display astronomical levels of goading, belittling and abusing of each other. Sometimes you do feel that the support should come more from within and in the shape of encouragement.
But why this particular incident has been taken so personally is beyond me.
I mentioned earlier that all but one of the relegations that I have witnessed has resulted in goading from the opposition fans.
My first full season as Fulwell Ender was the 90/91 season and it saw us relegated at Maine Road with the help of two Niall Quinn goals. This was the exception. Manchester City fans bonded superbly with the 15,000 travelling Sunderland fans and I remember them bizarrely encouraging Sunderland fans to join them in literally sitting down on the floor as they belted out renditions of Sit Down by James.
It was mutual respect and appreciation that I have only seen matched by the Norwich fans a year after in the FA Cup semi-final.
So couple that with the Niall Quinn factor and Sunderland supporters were always going to want Manchester City to win the title, right? Wrong!!!!! This was banter that would have been reversed if it was Rooney scoring the winner against QPR and it was the Citizens suffering heartache at the Stadium of Light.
The day that non-aggressive and clean verbal banter is taken away from football supporters will be a very sad day indeed. The match still represents a chance for society to escape their working week and puff their chests out in honour of the region that their teams represent. It can go beyond that, of course, and become “sad”, as Mr Rooney helpfully points out.
Ironically, he need only look at the image above for confirmation of that fact. Sunderland fans are some of the best in the land, and like others such as Man Utd, Man City, Liverpool, Everton and, dare I say it, Newcastle, will wind up the opposition’s during a game to the extreme yet no doubt have a pint and a good natured football discussion with them if their paths cross in different circumstances.
Sunderland fans sing You’ll Never Walk Alone to Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United fans with the intentions of winding them up and creating a hostile atmosphere. Always have, probably always will. I have witnessed countless chants calling us Geordies over the years, composed with the sole intention of winding us up. Add these clubs to the ones who have mocked our relegations and we have quite a few bitter enemies, do we? Of course not. Our intention through the whole Poznangate saga was to wind up the Manchester United fans and I think it’s safe to say we have succeeded with distinction.
I believe that the United fans, and even Wayne himself, have somewhat missed the point of Sir Alex’s intent anyway. If anybody can be bothered to divert away from the headline-making utterances in Sir Alex’s statements, they will notice that he spoke of former experiences before he mentioned Poznangate.
He said; “When we lost the league to Leeds in 1992, the young players – Neville, Scholes, Giggs – came out that day and the Liverpool supporters were asking for their autographs. Then they were tearing the autographs up – I told the players to remember that.”
So while it is clear that Sir Alex is using this incident as extra motivation for his players to get things right next term, forgive me if I refuse to take it as a total personal vendetta against Sunderland fans. The fact he has name dropped players who excelled for the club and brought them umpteen glories, indicates to me that the disappointment of witnessing this type of mockery is to be the platform for them to perform better and make sure that they don’t have to endure this kind of feeling again.
“Remember how opposition fans will make you feel if you fail once more. Make sure you don’t witness that again” – yes.
“We now hate Sunderland fans and are telling our parents of them” – no.
And if I’m wrong here, and Fergie [for which now read United/Rooney etc – Ed] suddenly does hate all things Sunderland, then that makes the whole thing even more laughable. Talk about biting.