The end-of-season reviews have been thought-provoking and varied, from M Salut’s own maybe excessive support for Steve Bruce – whose continued defence of the failure to replace Darren Bent defies logic – to the hard-hitting analysis offered by subsequent writers. Two, possibly three, remain to be fitted in before Pete Sixsmith has the final word. Here, Luke Harvey* discusses our respectable average attendances and asks the club to match the commitment he has made for next season …
“Twenty-five thousand empty seats…” came the chanting from burly shaven-headed males as the Newcastle-Sunderland free train trundled towards its destination.
??Needless to say my head was dipped low and any thoughts that popped into my head remained there; they were never verbalised as I was very much the minority among the crowd of travelling Newcastle fans.
It’s obviously a bit of an exaggeration to imply that the Stadium of Light often has that many empty seats for its matches; that would indicate the average crowd for a match was only 24,000, and thanks to an increased attendance against Wolverhampton Wanderers it was announced that the average attendance for home matches this season had risen to in excess of 40,000.
Forty thousand would be an enviable total for many teams, and it backs up the oft-heard cliché that fans from the North East “love their football”. Overused? Perhaps. Especially to anyone who, like myself, wasn’t born and raised in the North East. But it would be folly to dismiss the notion as having no truth.
It’s testament to the fans’ loyalty that despite their lack of recent success, both clubs continue to attract such consistent and passionate support.??Testament, too, to the Sunderland fans who still turned up in numbers excess of 40,000 for the final home game against Wolverhampton, with safety already assured, to witness an insipid display where a lack of basic set-piece defending was all too prevalent. That was a performance that capped a terrible few months for the home team at the Stadium of Light, a stadium previously referred to as a fortress given its impregnable status until Blackpool of all teams gave us the run around.
So, too, should Niall Quinn be proud of home contingent who turn up en masse every fortnight to see performances which steadily declined in quality over the season. His statement about “despising” fans who watch the three o’clock Saturday kick-offs in a pub with pictures piped in from far-flung Eastern European countries or beyond can be seen as a little harsh.
Quinn is rightly revered around Sunderland as one of the finest ambassadors for the club, a player whose name is synonymous with the club and whose performances at the turn of the millennium helped the team to consecutive seventh-place finishes. But whether a heat of the moment comment, or a genuine belief, for Quinn to say he “despises” those fans may seem rather over the top.
Given the current financial difficulties being experienced by people the world over, for some to opt to watch the match in a pub for free and instead pay for a couple of pints as opposed to paying nearly £30 per match or £400 for a season ticket isn’t entirely unbelievable.
Instead of bemoaning the fans who choose not to attend the matches, for whatever reason that may be, perhaps some thanks should be aimed towards the stalwarts who attend every match rain or shine, whether Sky have interfered and caused us a Monday night kick-off or not. These are the fans who ensured our attendance average was so admirable.
Far be it for me to judge how Quinn himself should choose his comments, but perhaps some thanks and admiration should be lavished upon those who make the club what it is every matchday. The fans who sing, chant and cheer on the home side, doing their best to act as 12th man, should perhaps be given more commendation than they currently receive from the club’s higher ups.??
Let it not be forgotten that a significant slice (NB: see comments) of the club’s income will come from ticket sales. The teams with higher attendances generate more turnover and therefore they can buy better players or give players better wages. It’s the fans who drive the team forward and help make it what it is, so pride in our lofty attendances should be shared by everyone associated with the club.
One highly important reason for such pride to be felt is that regardless of the ravages of recession, the fans continue to show up in their droves.
Sunderland is no exception to the rule. As with the rest of the country – and even the world – jobs are scarce, and money is becoming tighter. Disregard Bill Shankly’s old “football is more than a matter of life and death” quote that everyone knows so well; it’s most certainly not true. Football is a luxury, not a necessity and for fans still to be willing to part with their hard earned money for 19 home games a season, including travel for those not local, speaks volumes for the bond the fans share with the club.?
?And you have to seriously question whether you are getting value for money. Not just with Sunderland, but with all football teams around the country. I sit in disbelief and anger as I watch the Bundesliga, where fans get in for 15 euros and stand and drink in the stands, and recall the much stricter rules of English football, and the greater damage it makes to my wallet.
Again, it’s not just Sunderland and the Premier League where you seem to part with way too much money for a 90-minute spectacle and also part with too much money for an undersized drink at half-time. I spent the first few weeks of last season frequenting Brunton Park to watch my local side Carlisle United. A ground where they feel it’s justifiable to charge £18 to stand in the paddock and watch League One football. I put the question to you, does that sound like money well spent? Especially when in two weeks I managed to pay £36 to watch goalless draws with Swindon and Brighton & Hove Albion. It’s times like that you have to seriously question whether or not you can part with so much money to see often weak football.
And what of my attendances in the North East? A miserly two games this season, that was all I could make. And I saw as many goals too. Did I get value for money at my two matches? Well, it could be argued I did – and that I didn’t. My first trip was to a goalless draw against Manchester United where we turned in a great performance but couldn’t find the breakthrough, Zenden hit the post and the team played well but alas there were not to be three points. My second trip saw about 92 minutes of us being bullied by Newcastle before Bardsley’s shot rebounded onto Gyan and into the net and for those few seconds alone I was probably happy enough to regard the £60-70 the day cost me as wisely spent.
Congratulations, too, to Hartlepool United who are going all out for promotion next season and rewarding their fans by charging them less if they can break 4,000 season ticket sales. Perhaps Quinn and the other figureheads at Sunderland should pool their ideas together for something equally rewarding, perhaps £50 back to season ticket holders if we average over 42,000 at home or sell a specific number of season tickets. ??
Either way Quinny, you have approximately £300 off me for a season ticket next year. Please spend it wisely. All I ask in return is that we perform with more guts in front of the home fans. I’ve done my bit, it’s in your hands now.
* Luke Harvey is Carlisle born and bred so his home matchday trip is 60 miles or about an hour and a half. A committed supporter “via my grandad who was born in Pennywell but who I never met”. Luke is studying journalism, wants to be a sportswriter and performs the useful service of bringing down the average age of Salut! Sunderland contributors