Sunderland report cards: the essential guide to our eight-part series

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In the end, the Positive Party succeeded in making its voice heard. Only the most naive supporter could expect the sort of post-January collapse we suffered to go unscrutinised, uncriticised. Equally, however, there were signs at various points of the season of real advances being made by Sunderland AFC and while no one should get carried away, it was right that these signs should be acknowledged in our contributors’ reports.

The eight Sunderland supporters who presented their reflections on the 2010-2011 season may not, when considered against a 40,000 average gate and the huge, absent diaspora, represent a scientific sample (even though the world is expected to take notice when an opinion poll is based on the views of 1,000 people drawn from a population exceeding 60m).

Even so, this is intended as a handy digest to a series Salut! Sunderland is proud to have published and offers brief extracts from each piece with a link leading to the full posting at the merest click of the subheading. And if the end-of-the-season partwork has run its course, rest assured the debate will go on …



1 Monsieur Salut: progress achieved, but Newcastle can smile too

” … the honest SAFC supporter can admit that it has, in some ways, been a better season for Toon than for us. Tenth top was our minimum target, as set by the owner Ellis Short and surely endorsed by every fan; we got there by the skin of our teeth. For Newcastle United, safety of any kind was paramount and they achieved it comfortably, with seven points and several places to spare.
Sunderland are the top dogs in the all-comers stakes. Newcastle won the neighbourhood scrap, outplaying us at SJP to win 5-1 and outplaying us at the SoL while only drawing. On a purely objective level, if such a thing is possible on a partisan site, I’d say they have marginally more than us to be pleased about.
I expect this series of end-of-season reviews to include a lot of scrutiny of Steve Bruce’s performance, and some calls for his head. I always said i would reserve my own judgement until the season ended, and what a difference three wins in the last five games made.
On balance, I believe he deserves another chance.”

2 Bill Taylor’s spoof Steve Bruce e-mail: separated from Newcastle only by colour of stripes

“We finished halfway down the table because that’s what we are: a halfway-down-the-table team. Just like Newcastle; no better, no worse. We may profess to hate them but when you come down it, the biggest difference between us and them is nothing more than the colour of our stripes.
All the fine talk about Europe was just that – fine talk. Hot air. Rubbish. And when we lowered our sights to a top-10 place, well, we all knew in our heart of hearts that we probably weren’t lowering them quite enough. We’re a top 10 side by the skin of our teeth. Spiritually, we’re more like a top 12 side.”

3 Jeremy Robson: how we missed Darren Bent’s goals

“Bent left at a very bad time for us, and I remain convinced that there was little Steve Bruce could do at that time, or prior, to turn his head once he was motivated to leave. We have had a catalogue of injuries this season which have hampered performances. The extent of these injuries is perhaps unprecedented. The absence of strikers was attributed to the injuries sustained by Campbell (missing nearly all season), and latterly Welbeck and Gyan. However, our dismal run and inability to score goals began well before the absence of both Welbeck and Gyan.”

4 Malcolm Dawson: the curse of consistent inconsistency

” … in true Sunderland fashion, it has been another roller coaster. Hopes were raised before Christmas and dashed in the New Year. The end of season feeling is “what might have been” and not “what came to pass” although tempered with the “could have been worse”.
Had we consistently been yo-yoing between 6th and 10th, never looking like a bottom half side but ultimately finishing in 10th spot, I expect I would have been more satisfied than I am. But the fact that for so long, so early in the season, we looked to be top of the second tier, the subsequent slump which led to our ultimate position drove out the positive feelings for a considerable period.”

5 Luke Harvey: my 40,000 reasons for demanding more guts

“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.”

6 Bob Chapman: measuring progress, and winning the FA Cup again

“So what can we learn from this last season and what is the ambition for the next? Survival achieved by the January would be nice. Progress in the FA Cup would be a refreshing fillip. When will we ever learn about playing weakened sides against lesser teams? The top clubs can do it as they have two players at least for each position. We clearly don’t have such resources and that needs to be rectified.
Although the injuries were bad this season, they were for other clubs as well. To lose the spine of your side is going to happen periodically for all teams and what the bigger clubs like us have to do is manage such setbacks. The alternative to do a Birmingham.”

7 Martin Robson: “Steve Bruce’s critics will eat their words”

” … now, more than ever before, I am sensing genuine hope for the future under our current regime.
We have the finances, and an owner who is willing to splash the cash on players. How many times could we have said that in the past? We have a popular, passionate, committed, determined and ambitious chairman, with inside knowledge to boot. His plans to bring the good times back to a richly deserving area are slowly but surely coming to fruition, and we long sufferers ought to be relieved, appreciative and supportive of that. I am astounded by the negativity, the impatience and petulance of some of the regular contributors to this site, who seem to have forgotten just how bad we had it, and how long we had it for.
This last season has been entirely different. Even though we still can’t seem to win comfortably, and most games went to the wire, the quality of football, the passing and movement, the level of skill was infinitely superior to anything I have ever seen at either of our stadiums.”

8 Pete Sixsmith: the “if onlys” and “and yets”

“We have achieved an average attendance of over 40,000 in the midst of a recession that has (as usual) hit the North East harder than most other regions. Our fan base is loyal and knowledgeable and desperately wants the club to do well. The away support is outstanding: 4,000 at Bolton for a team who could hardly beat a carpet is a staggering achievement. Outside of the top four or five only our Dear 12th-placed Friends from Tyneside can match our consistent away support. And yet …

And yet … there’s that nagging feeling that it all should have been better. As always in football, the attention turns to the manager, and ours has had a rough ride since February, when it all started to unravel. He was blamed for injuries, for failing to replace Bent, for a lack of Plan B (some would say a Plan A) and, by some of his sternest critics, for the Japanese Earthquake and the demise of Cheryl Cole on the American X Factor …

… Most of our fans are, like the fans of every club, patient, long suffering and desperate to have some success. We care. When Bruce, Short, Quinn and whoever else have gone, we will still be there, in our dotage, reminiscing about Johnnie Crossan and Marco and Vic Halom. But I do wish that some of them would be less objectionable. At too many away games, I have heard vicious verbal attacks on management and players alike, usually from people whose judgment may well be clouded by an excess of alcohol.”

Onelast thought, from a Sunderland supporter who did not write a review of the season for this site.

Quite often, during that awful run (which, sad to recall, is a phrase we found ourselves using a lot last season, too), it was difficult not to sink into familiar gloom. But it may be helpful to remind ourselves of the upbeat words of Phil Cronin, head of Tombola, SAFC’s kit sponsors, in his Salut! Sunderland interview just after the drubbiing at Eastlands: “I went to the game at the City of Manchester Stadium yesterday and came away feeling very miserable, but I still feel the club is heading in the right direction. Lets hope that in two or three years time we’re watching our first European tie at the Stadium of Light.”

Monsieur Salut

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