Captain's Blog: The 'Magedia' - A Sunderland-Driven Myth

Stu Forster

With another transfer window just about done and dusted, Sunderland fans have once again found themselves largely starved of information. But does the lack of column inches afforded to the club this month make the Black Cats the victim of a media agenda, or is it simply a myth they inadvertently create themselves?

When all is said and done this month, the chances are Sunderland will have done relatively well out of the transfer window. At the time of writing, some much needed muscle has been added to the squad, a striker looks on the verge of joining them, and a little deadwood has been trimmed from the squad.

But while Sunderland have appeared to find some real value in the market, I can't help but wonder if the fans have started to become a little short-changed by the club.

Sunderland's policy seems clear - ‘when something has happened, we'll tell you about it', which is fair enough up until a point. However the wall of silence that emanates from the Stadium of Light these days does little to satiate the thirst for news and updates of the modern technology-savvy football fans.

It produced unquestionably the most frustrating pre-season in recent memory last summer, and the last few weeks have been little different with the few scraps of news we have had coming from the piecing together of foreign reports, agent chatter, and sheer speculation.

It really doesn't have to be this way.

I appreciate that Sunderland need to exert control over their ‘brand'. They have made that abundantly clear over the last few years. In fact, we ourselves at Roker Report have experienced the vigour with which they protect themselves. It is just a necessary evil of the modern game, to some understandable extent at least.

But the same can be said of the need for positive publicity and exposure, especially in such a fiercely competitive footballing region as ours.

There is a developing perception that Sunderland get a rough deal from the local press; that they are more interested in filling column inches with news about Newcastle United than they are Sunderland. Some fans have even branded it ‘The Magedia' and directed their vitriol towards journalists with open accusations of bias. In the past, I have been known to question their judgment, most notably in their reporting of the Wear/Tyne derby this season, but as a general point I have always trusted their objectivity.

But the truth is that it is opportunity - or lack of - that drives the content of the local press, not a preconceived agenda.

When The Magpies made a plethora of signings this month, they were freely and immediately offered up to the mass press. Journalists were invited to come and meet them, fire questions their way, and introduce them to the supporters. It caused a buzz and a stir and it kept the club in the headlines for an extra day.

Contrast that to when Sunderland signed Alfred N'Diaye. The Frenchman was not initially made available to the press and when they specifically requested access to him they were initially refused. Granted, there may have been language problems but no more than anywhere else and none that could not have been overcome. The press were eventually allowed to speak to him, but two weeks later when the initial buzz had very much diminished.

The message that sent out was clear. Newcastle have made signings worthy of shouting from the rooftops. Sunderland, have not. No one will convince me that, in a region where support is fought over in heavily divided areas, it is a message that is not needlessly detrimental to Sunderland AFC. It isn't the press sending out that message. It is the club itself.

Again, it seems to be all about control. By keeping the introduction to a SAFCTV interview, they singularly get to dictate the questioning and tone. I can understand the appeal, but is it what fans really want? I would only dream of speaking for myself, but it certainly isn't what I want to see. What I want to see is Sunderland AFC in a positive light splashed over as many back pages as possible as often as possible.

Perhaps even more frustrating, though, is the lack of communication regarding potential new arrivals. I wouldn't like to see the club conduct itself in the soap-opera style associated with Harry Redknapp, for example, and sometimes silence can indeed be golden, but it doesn't have to be a case of either/or. There is ample room to find the happy medium.

The club could very easily give more snippets of information to the press off the record to fill the sports supplements, whilst still maintaining the outward perception of keeping their own counsel. That is all it would have taken to turn ‘Pappis Cissé, who had recently been heavily linked with Sunderland' to ‘Pappis Cissé, who was never a target for Martin O'Neill', or to see Sunderland's name dominate the back page of The Journal with a transfer exclusive.

Is someone going to tell me, from a fans point of view, that is not preferable to the senior football writer of Sunderland's own paper vehemently denying a deal for Adam Johnson - a well-regarded England international and genuine coup for the club that the national press were itching to cover - literally the afternoon before he signed?

I can appreciate that this may be perceived by some as just a bitter writer, lashing out at the club for being denied the information that he is not entitled to. I will openly admit to there being a degree of frustration there, but the majority without question stems from being a fan.

Far more often than necessary, we are being left at the mercy of comments from agents and other clubs. This window alone, the agents of Mauro Zarate, Roland Juhasz, and Paul Scharner have spoken definitively of offers from Sunderland in an attempt to smoke out interest from elsewhere. Meanwhile, we managed to pick up reports that Alfred N'Diaye and Kader Mangane were on their way relatively early, but not from our own local press, but that of the selling clubs.

What is to stop Sunderland showing the same kind of courtesy to their own fans? No one is suggesting here that they conduct their business in public, but just a little subtle communication and actually using the local press to promote the club. What they are currently doing is not protecting their brand by controlling information - it is damaging their brand by blocking information.

Even with all the best intentions in the world, football has never been a place for dignified silence and willful self-depreciation, and that is even more the case than ever given the nature of the modern game. It is time Sunderland started to blow their own trumpet and doing so with considerably more gusto. After all, who better knows the tune?

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