Danny Graham Can Overcome Football's Tribalist Nature

Jan Kruger

With strong suggestions that Danny Graham could be making a move to Sunderland, many have been quick to point to his Newcaslte United supporting ways as a reason not to sign him. It all just seems a little silly to me...

"If I see that picture of Danny Graham's irrelevant interview once more I think I'll spontaneously combust". Not my words, but very much my sentiments too as Roker Report's own Michael Graham expressed them so eloquently the other day.

It's been speculated for quite some time and the anger in many Sunderland fans has been bubbling up. Now amid reports on Sky Sports News of an actual bid for the current Swansea City striker, anger has spilled into the public domain.

It's infuriating that it's come to this. The tribalism which is part of football has overnight become the be all and end all of it, with fans seemingly perfectly happy to ignore the players very good scoring record all because he once said to a Newcastle fanzine that he isn't too keen on Sunderland.

STOP THE PRESSES! NEWCASTLE FAN IN "DOESN'T LIKE SUNDERLAND" SHOCKER!

Yes, the interview given a while back in which he doesn't actually state he actively dislikes Sunderland, just that if in some bizarro-world that if Newcastle ceased to exist he'd choose to support Gateshead, and "stay as far away from Sunderland" as he could.

Is it so shocking that a Gateshead native would say anything else? If asked the same question what would you say? I'd imagine the great many in SR postcodes would move on to Hartlepool or someone else rather than our neighbours to the north. Especially if asked by a Sunderland-based publication such as A Love Supreme.

People seem to be falling over themselves to get us to look at our experiences with Michael Chopra, Lee Clark and to a lesser degree from some knuckle-draggers, Steve Bruce. Seemingly ignoring the fact we have a statue of a born and bred Newcastle fan outside the South East Corner of the Stadium Of Light.

When it comes to Chopra we all knew what we were getting ourselves into. He's a Newcastle lad, and even scored against us for both them and Cardiff, celebrating wildly. Perhaps almost as wildly as we celebrated his last minute goal against Tottenham Hotspur, or his crucial game-winning goal against Aston Villa which went a long way toward ensuring our Premier League survival that season.

But regardless of what happened in the past, he'll only be remembered for an awful cross-come-shot against Newcastle at St James Park which came nowhere close to being either and cost us a very good chance to win the game that day. It was distinctly poor decision from what was ultimately a limited player. Nobody seems willing to recall the fact he put the Newcastle defence to the sword that day, or him hands on head in the Newcastle penalty area having seen his header crash back off the cross bar in the reverse fixture.

As for Clark, he continues to insist he was the victim of circumstance. His Sunderland fan insulting t-shirt worn at Wembley as he went to see the club we all knew he supported. It could have been described as ill-advised, had it been his fault. We spoke to Lee Clark a while back and asked him about the incident;

No, that was never the case. It happened when I was watching Newcastle. It was put on me by a group of fans as I got out of a cab, close to Wembley Stadium. I was gutted, as it spoiled what I had done on the pitch for two seasons, and the Sunderland AFC fans were quite rightly very unhappy with me.

And what he alludes to there is also true. He was a superb player on the pitch for us, and many of us wish this had never happened and he'd have stuck around longer. A fact backed up when he told us;

Whenever I pulled on the Sunderland shirt I always gave 100%.

So if we're to take Danny Graham at his word that he his too big of a Newcastle fan to play for us, then surely we can forgive the sins of Clark. At the end of the day, they're both just words on a page, playing to the audience which will read it.

Because of these two though too many Sunderland fans still have something stuck in their craw about signing anyone who supports Newcastle. Its really quite astounding that so many others have been over-looked who have quite successfully done so because they're professionals. Something Danny Graham might well choose to be. Should a bid be accepted by Swansea for his services he can either come here, be professional about things and do his job, or if it's seen as too much of a hardship for him then he can stay at Swansea or go elsewhere.

Gateshead-born Newcastle fan Don Hutchison scored against them, and kissed our badge in front of an outraged Leazes End. People can change, and people can overcome their allegiances if they have the right attitude.

Graham might feel skeptical about any move at the moment, but Martin O'Neill could be a persuasive factor. O'Neill of course our most sought after manager. One the majority of fans had yearned to see at the helm of the club ever since Peter Reid left. A self-confessed Sunderland fan who seems to strongly believe that Graham will do good for us, and also believes that he can persuade Graham to put down his pasty for a moment and give his all for Sunderland.

To refer back to that interview with Clark, he told us it's not easy to cross the divide. Friends and family tried to convince him not to join us;

Yes, of course they did. Everyone did. But the manager, and the size of the club persuaded me to make the move.

That was in the First Division under Peter Reid. Times have changed and we're in a much better position now as a club, so surely the same principles would apply?

Of course Clark isn't the only one. Ron Guthrie and David Young both came to Sunderland from Newcastle before going on to write their place in Sunderland folklore as part of the team who won the 1973 FA Cup. Both of course were dyed-in-the-wool Newcastle fans, but as proven, people can change.

In Lance Hardy's excellent "Stoke, Sunderland & '73" book, both reveal what convinced them, starting with Guthrie;

I went in there and there was Joe [Harvey, Newcastle Manager], Jackie Milburn and Bob Stokoe. Joe said to me "Bob would like you at Sunderland." Bob then told me I'd be first choice left-back if I signed [...] I said "Ok." Wages were not even discussed.

Where as Young goes on to reveal a little bit more about the situation;

Of course going from black and white to red and white was gong to be difficult for Ron and me, but it all happened very quickly. Bob said "I'm going to build a team of red and whites -- I know all that -- but I want to get some good players in, and Joe tells me you'll do a good job for me." Bob convinced us. He was quite persuasive.

If it's happened with Reid and Stokoe, then why not O'Neill too? A hugely respected manager, still in the infancy of building his own team here at Sunderland. If he see's Graham as a good fit for the club (as Stokoe did with Guthrie and Young) then why shouldn't we trust him?

To bring things back to the modern day somewhat and look at purely Graham the player, you'd be hard-pressed to make a coherent argument that he wouldn't be good for us.

He's got the right build, he's enjoying his peak years and has an excellent goalscoring record. He's hit the back of the net seven times in twenty-one appearances this season, whilst only completing the full match on eight occasions. Certainly he offers more than Fraizer Campbell or Louis Saha, while a Connor Wickham remains too young to really reserve judgement. Seven goals this season is one more than Campbell has managed in the last four seasons combined. Graham would be a huge upgrade on our striking options.

But it all comes back to that tribalism. Misplaced tribalism if you ask me. I dislike Newcastle as much as the next guy - as is my fundamental right as a born and bred Sunderland fan - but you have to take a step back and find some perspective.

What it boils down to is this: People are basing this "no more Mags" mantra upon one poor shot and a t-shirt, and bestowing these trivial incidents with a greater importance than they are cup winners, derby goalscorers, and quality footballers. That's pretty much it. It seems all rather pathetic and silly when you look at it like that.

If we can look past this one throwaway comment from Graham then he could go on to be a success. All those who are just itching to say "I told you so" can just wait until something does go awry. If indeed it does. But there is one unequivocal truth in this that they dare not mention - history is more on the side of success than failure when it comes to crossing the divide.

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