Ian Todd, a lifelong Sunderland supporter who moved away for university and has spent his adult life in London, has graced these pages intermittently throughout Salut! Sunderland’s nine-year life. He is the man without whom the London and SE branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association wouldn’t have been created, or at least not as early (1967) or successfully as it was. It was, until this season, unthinkable that he’d be absent from more than a handful of games. In fact, while he continues to attend home games and has already renewed his season ticket, his presence on Sunderland’s travels has become a rarity.
Here is how he explains his decision in the new edition of Wear Down South, the branch newsletter, with a footnote* from the Blackcats e-mail loop on why he gave the derby a miss. Taken together, it’s a mix of the reason you perhaps wouldn’t expect, and one you would …
Some of you may be aware I have not been attending games recently as regularly as in the past – of which more later. But I attended the Arsenal cup game and it did nothing to encourage me to resume uninterrupted and dedicated support.
By common acceptance, †he Emirates is the most attractive of the modern new-build stadiums, with excellent views of the pitch and padded seats even for the visiting fans.
So it was with hope of a pleasant afternoon I took my place. Then he arrived! Standing taller and wider than your normal human, he obscured my view of the third of the pitch to my right, standing being the operative word.
Further irritation was added occasionally by accompanying his singing with arm extension to form a Y-shape which added more obstruction to my view. And as he swayed from side to side, I had to constantly move my own head to change my view from the left of him to his right whenever play was at the end of the pitch beyond the halfway line.
Despite my age I am fortunately fit enough to stand for 90 minutes without discomfort, but the time will soon come when I will find it no longer worthwhile to accept that as part of my match-going experience.
I understand that many supporters, and not only the younger element, prefer to stand at games and believe in doing so they add to the atmosphere. But I firmly believe that should be a choice rather than an entitlement and that I should similarly have the option to sit.
Had all our fans at the Emirates and at other grounds sat, then everyone tall or small would have a largely uninterrupted view of the playing area. Grounds are actually designed that way believe it or not!
The Football Supporters’ Federation’s creditable campaign for safe standing has been persistent for a number of years but its progress has been consistently opposed by governments of both political hues.
The campaign has been keeping a low profile recently out of deference to the Hillsborough Inquiry but even while that has been going on some lobbying has been going on behind the scenes and some attitudes have already softened.
It is fanciful, however, to expect a form of safe standing to be permitted legally in grounds in the near future. It is also unlikely that on a widespread scale clubs will be prepared to bear the cost of removing existing seats.
But there is a pragmatic way of at least easing the problem.
The legislation doesn’t require people to sit. It merely requires seats to be provided. And while Safety Committees have always felt an obligation to get people to sit, clubs have found it an expectation increasingly difficult to police without causing even more problems.
No club has yet lost their Safety Certificate through a failure to force fans to remain predominantly seated. It would have to be done subtly but it should be possible for a club’s database to record whether people prefer to stand at away games or sit. Then allocate the upper seats to the standers and the lower seats to the sitters. No doubt there’ll be an excuse that computerised seat allocation couldn’t cope with that sophistication. The answer to “there’s a hole in my bucket” has ever been “well fix it!”.
I’d happily accept the poorer view that lower seats offer for the benefit of it being an unobstructed one. And stewards would have a much simpler task of asking to sit down the few who persisted in standing amid all those seated. It wouldn’t work first time but gradually I believe an amicable convention would emerge.
I’ve continued, almost without exception, to attend home games which provide the social atmosphere around the travel, the pre-match lunch and the company of those around me in the stadium, all peacefully seated.
But I haven’t felt I’ve been letting the club down by starting to pick and choose my away games. I’ve gone through thick and thin for over 50 years even persisting to attend throughout the 15 and 19 point relegation seasons but I’ve begun to feel I’ve done my duty now and there are others younger and more vociferous who are welcome to my place in the away end.
And my conscience is eased by almost every game being a sell-out. It’s mostly been an age-related weariness stance but I confess it’s also been results-related.
Had I set off in the morning with a reasonable expectation of a positive result I’d have been more inclined to suffer the vexation of my spectating. But when the chances are high that even when the team plays well (or perhaps just better) you’re still going to witness a defeat and a miserable journey home it becomes easier and easier to opt out. So it’s been same old discomfort, same old result!
I haven’t “retired” but give me the hope of seeing points won and viewing their collection in a less uncomfortable environment and you’ll see me around, hopefully for a few more years yet. But I need incentivising!
* Someone at the Blackcats list talked of having given the derby a “swerve”. Here was Ian’s response:
Loved that expression because it fitted my attitude precisely. Have largely given up attending the away Derby games because I find the febrile atmosphere less tolerable with each of my advancing years. The game being on TV is an additional cop out and I’ve used that recently too by not bothering to go to what for me in London would have been “home” games at Spurs and West Ham – and will again for Norwich.
But there’s a philosophical underpinning of my (almost) nonchalance too. Obviously I continue to want us to succeed and in particular not to be left behind from the riches the Premier League is about to bestow on its members. But I find myself caring less and less. At least twice in recent years I’ve attuned myself to expected relegation so I’m ready for it again. My attendance, urging the players on, castigating the ref., wanting Sam to make substitutions etc. isn’t going to affect the result. And I’ve no control over the results of Norwich, Newcastle, Swansea, Palace. So why should I put myself through the agony of predicting our fate? As Mick G says, if we go down it’s because we deserve to.
Why then should I even suffer the minute by minute agony of watching the game on TV either at home or with fellow Branch members at The Old Red Lion? My “swerve” (and I’m happy to accept bundles of disbelief and derision from fellow ‘cats) took me down to Huish Park to the serenity of watching Sunderland Ladies progress to the Quarter-Finals of the FA Women’s Cup.
It’s sad but I’m just not really bothered any more! I’ll be at the home games because (a) I’ve got an (already renewed) season card and (b) I enjoy the social side of the travel and the game. And at some stage I’ll have to decide whether to go to Watford. But whatever will be will be.