There have been few signings that have split Sunderland fans seemingly 50/50, but the acquisition of Danny Graham from Swansea caused more of a stir than Martin O'Neill would have liked. The boyhood Newcastle fan was greeted by a chorus of boos from a section of the Sunderland support when he entered the pitch as a late substitution for The Swans, two days before signing for Martin O'Neill's side. The reason for the boos? Not because he was a Toon fan, but for his comments in a fanzine, stating his desire to never play for Sunderland. This attitude is perfectly reasonable, in my opinion, as I would wager that ninety-nine out of a hundred either Sunderland or Newcastle fans would share a similar view, respectively. I believe the comments made by Graham affected people on a deeper level.
Sunderland, being a one-city club, has bred die-hard, passionate supporters, who support the club through thick and thin, wishing only for the success of their team. It is fair to say that, despite the numerous relegations and false-dawns, we are affectionately proud of our club and regularly defend it, and each other, to the hilt when it comes to criticisms. This partisan loyalty and love for the club is continuously getting stronger as the so-called 'Geordie Nation' is rammed down our throats on the television, radio and internet. As the media's fascination with the Toon army is ever-present, I believe our fans have taken to almost 'isolating' the club – not in a negative way, but as a defence mechanism, for lack of a better word, against the spread of the Geordie Nation. And herein lies the root of the problem concerning the new-boy.
I would posit that Sunderland fans would love nothing better than seeing a team of local lads representing the club on the pitch, if they were able to compete and perform at a high level. I still dream of walking out into the Stadium of Light and bagging the winner under the floodlights! I don't believe the signing of Graham is being criticised for the fact he was a Geordie, just by looking outside of the ground you will find a statue of a much-loved Geordie Bob Stokoe, and a large number of our fan base are Geordies. I believe it stems from the implication of the derogatory comments – not wanting to sound like an old-fashioned Italian mobster- disrespecting our club, our family. It may be an out-of-date view to hold as a set of fans, but it is a view that I think defines us; there is still a sense of honour to wearing the red and white stripes, and that honour should be respected. We haven't asked for much over the years, just hard-work, commitment and passion.
Upon signing for Sunderland, Graham revealed that he is determined to prove to the fans that he deserves to wear the shirt – and if gives that 100% he will have absolutely no problem. His previous comments will soon disappear into the back of our minds, and forgotten. An outcome that almost every Sunderland supporter is hoping for. Good luck Danny!