Thank You For Shopping At Sunderland, Please Come Again

Laurence Griffiths

This isn't my club any more.

This is going to come across like a right whinge. Mainly, because that's exactly what it is, and that's easy to do after such an awful loss, however yesterday simply makes up a small portion of what is ultimately the worst situation Sunderland have been in for years.

I'm not in my 25th year of following this club all round the country. From a spot in the Main Stand Paddock where on account of my shortness I had to basically jump for 90 minutes in order to get a glimpse of 'heroes' such as Anton Rogan, Brian Atkinson and Warren Hawke. From such heady days to all round the country. Defeats at the likes of Southend and Port Vale on Tuesday nights, to using toilets worse than that featured in the film Trainspotting at Fratton Park.

That's not to say it's all been bad. I've seen on very fleeting occasions some scintillating football, numerous promotions and even been to Wembley on several occasions to proudly support Sunderland, although they've always ended in misery.

During the good and the bad there was always at least a connection to the club. It was MY club, it was OUR club. However it's hard to get over a feeling that's been lingering over me for best part of six months now that this is very much THEIR club, which we have been kindly allowed to watch. How gracious.

Who exactly are THEY though? Well it's pretty much everyone involved from top to bottom, and unfortunately I only have questions rather than answers.

It feels very much at the moment that the regime running the club are not only clueless, but really couldn't give a flying one about how things are going.

The actions in replacing managers has in my mind, still been the correct decision. For me Messrs Bruce, O'Neill and Di Canio all were not the answers and had to go. We'll wait and see how long it is before Gus Poyet adds his name to that list.

Ultimately though they had to go as they should never have been there in the first place. Martin O'Neill was nothing more than a crowd-pleasing choice. When it was between him and Mark Hughes for the job, I was routinely mocked for not getting aboard the O'Neill Bandwagon, citing that I felt he'd been out of the game for too long. That's not to say Hughes would have done any better, nor was he my particular choice, that was simply my main concern.

As time elapsed it seems as though I was ultimately right, and he couldn't keep up the initial passion or buzz, and found himself with 20+ players, none of whom were willing to play for him. I don't want to say "I told you so" because I've said plenty other stuff and been completely wrong, however it would be difficult to argue against my early point.

Enter Paolo Di Canio.

A questionable character that we felt we had to get on with. The media at large were against him from day one, and we, on these very pages, staunchly defended his character and his methodology. Because that's kinda what you have to do as a fan when people are attacking something that is very much YOURS.

We all knew there were flaws. We didn't realise quite how massive they would be before the ultimately left the club last month.

Then again, we must question how he was even appointed. If you recall it was a whirlwind from O'Neill going to Di Canio being in in less than 48-hours.

Rumours, which have yet to be denied, that Paolo put his name in the frame during a chance meeting with Ellis Short in a London restaurant seem entirely believable at this moment. Given this supposed meeting and the speed at which he was appointed, can we say that any due diligence was done? It sounds little more than jobs for the boys, likeability becoming much more important than skill.

There was also for Di Canio the two-and-a-half year contract. He must have been one hell of a salesman as they chatted across over-priced salads and bottles of Dom.

Less we forget the club going into a PR lockdown on Di Canio, allowing little-to-no access for the press to ask questions, instead opting to put out a pre-recorded message from Paolo which was apparently all we'd get.

After all, we were merely fans, and this is what we deserve. In the eyes of Sunderland's higher-ups. WE, those in charge are Sunderland, WE'LL do what WE want, and you can just deal with it.

Needless to say this is also around the time that Sunderland installed the mysterious Roberto De Fanti as the club's director of football. Another man with no experience of such a role. Combined with Ellis Short's new interest in the game, and having recently only rose to prominence at the club himself, there was only a handful of years at the club in terms of experience in the positions to which they were anointed. "The blind leading the blind" couldn't be more apt.

So it was little surprise when Di Canio was ousted. A slapdash decision to appoint him was ended in a slapdash manner.

And what of De Fanti? The man remains at the club. Of course he does. Further rumours of him being appointed on the basis of his contacts (of which little to none have been used) are outweighed by those that he was appointed, and will remain at the club for quite some time on the basis he's a family friend of Short's significantly.

Nobody really knows why he is here, or what he is contributing to the cause. He has given one interview. To, quelle surprise, to the club on their online TV station, where absolutely nothing of note was addressed. Much like everything from this small-minded regime, this was our lot and we were supposed to be happy enough with that.

Needless to say there's this whole Phil Bardsley fiasco which is nothing more than a slap in the face. A huge one at that. We've been given absolutely no apology for his actions of flaunting himself in public without an ounce of dignity, and his return and apology are merely the tipping point.

There isn't a full apology. Just that WE, the idiots who have supported him, misunderstood him. He's been doing great in training though. The club cannot tell us that enough times. Bully for him.

Don't complain little fan, you're just a customer. At best.

This public shutting down of anything remotely questioning authority extends behind the scenes too. Since this site started we have been embroiled in three legal battles with the club, who would love nothing more than to see us at Roker Report shut down permanently. How dare we have a voice. Olive branches and favours toward the club have fell on deaf ears.

I've never felt such disdain. Especially by those I used to work alongside. Yes, early in my life I was part of the Sunderland machine.

We had Bob Murray at the helm then. Possibly the most maligned owner of my lifetime. Even as a youth I'd been part of the now infamous "red card protest" against him. One time we laughed about that, and he accepted his foibles. Say what you like about him for not spending as much as we'd have liked him to, but my word, at least he gave a shit and was willing to engage in conversation about how things were going a the club.

Looking back even just three years we had Niall Quinn at the club. The great man made a hell of a lot of mistakes too in his time as manager and as chairman, but my word he had some soul and some connection to us mere mortals in the stands. At least at that time we were never treat with the contempt we are now.

Sunderland football club has completely lost it's soul. Usually in a derby week like the one upcoming, I'm a sack of nerves and a quivering wreck. Now quite honestly I feel little more than duty-bound to watch the game out of some sort of sense of 'loyalty'. The kind the club take for granted, and play on constantly to guilt you back into your seat.

In reality, I really couldn't give a bollocks if we win, lose or draw against what used to be for me one of the biggest times of the year. A win would merely paper over the cracks, and quite honestly be used as a tool to get everyone fooled into the fact that "things have changed, come back".

I've fallen for that one too many times I'm afraid. There's no "football" people at the club running it. We're run by agents, businessmen and lawyers who see little more than pound signs in the stands every week, not a group of people to whom they should have some obligation to.

I'm not harkening back for some sort of Stand Against Modern Football rubbish which some do, back to the good old days when fans were fans, and footballers were paid like normal people. I like modern football. I like being able to sit down and from time to time see some quality footballers, the likes of which the world has never seen.

However it's entirely possible to do that and also have some soul. It's not an either/or choice.

I doubt that this will matter at all mind, as nothing infiltrates the bubble which the club have created around themselves. The one which blinkers them from reality and disconnects them from what was an adoring public. Still, at least it lets THEM set the agenda. Which is truly all they've ever wanted. All it's done though his alienate people and switch them off.

Until this club can completely sort things out, from top to bottom, they're going to have to consider this customer a non-returning one, having checked out for good.

Well done everyone involved.

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