Following the farcical defeat to bottom club Wigan at the Stadium of Light last week, discontent on Wearside reached a fever pitch as furious Sunderland fans vented their fury at Steve Bruce. His future will likely be decided this week by Ellis Short, and I don't see what I could add to the already ample speculation here. What does need addressing, however, is what has become a vile and disturbing media-led smear campaign against Sunderland fans in the wake of their vitriolic protests against their manager.
When Franco Di Santo's rolled in Wigan's last-minute minute winner, fans rose in their thousands to bombard Bruce with calls to 'get out of our club', punctuated with some rather distasteful personal abuse. No one is condoning that. Not for one second. But such chants have been a somewhat abhorrent yet largely unchallenged part of football for decades so it is difficult to comprehend why Sunderland fans are being singled out for such a special slice of condemnation now.
Indeed, at the height of Mike Ashley's unpopularity, 'you fat cockney b*stard' was a staple of the St James Park match day chorus. At one point a banner describing the Newcastle owner as the head of a 'cockney mafia' was paraded around the entire stadium. I can't remember an outcry in the media. In fact, the general consensus seemed to be that Newcastle fans were justified because they deserved better. Mike Ashley mustn't have the right friends.
Yet when Sunderland fans do the same thing they are not portrayed as lovable scamps who love their club so much that they are willing to fight for it in a demonstratively impassioned display of guardianship. Sunderland fans are vilified for it.
So the question remains just how on earth Sunderland fans have become the bad guys in all this? We are talking about a set of fans here who had seen two home wins since New Year's day yet still provided support for their team that could only be numerically bettered last weekend by the giants of the English game. When Darren Bent unceremoniously left the club, it was Bruce that received blanket backing from the support rather than their departing hero. Bruce was welcomed so warmly by Sunderland fans that he was invited to switch on the city's Christmas lights soon after joining the club. When form stretching back 11 months is properly examined, it is clear that he has received a remarkable level of support and patience.
And what has he given in return? He has meekly stood by and allowed high-profile players to use the club like a cheap tart and freely abandon it when it suited their agendas. He has been utterly unable to provide any kind of consistent form after being happy to demolish and remould the squad a staggering three times in two years. He championed a fine young home-grown product only to then sell him when he amazingly got himself, through nothing but his own managerial incompetence, in a position where he had to rebuild an entire squad just one year after assembling it. After two and a half years of squad building, he willingly fielded a strike pairing of a left back and a player the club do not even own against the league's bottom team - and lost. He has insulted fans, citing their support of the club as a hindrance and produced bare-faced lies of lofty expectations to try and back up his delusion. And if we want to talk about personal insults, it doesn't get much more personal for a Sunderland fan than to be told they are obsessed with their bitterest rivals even to the point where by the alleged obsession is to the detriment of their own club.
But regular listeners to popular national sport radio stations and other aspects of the mainstream media never hear that side of the story. Bruce is part of the old-boys club and must be protected. His version of events must be promoted until none others were ever known to exist. There is a word for that and it is not 'journalism' – it is 'propaganda'.
One football writer, the Express' Bill Bradshaw (who is alleged to have some Sunderland allegiances), decided to take time out of his schedule to brand Sunderland fans 'bigots'. The seemingly generally accepted consensus in media circles that fans on Wearside refuse to accept and embrace anyone with Tyneside roots is insulting and axiomatically incorrect. Visitors to the Stadium of Light will notice two things. Firstly, despite a rich and proud long history, the solitary statue that stands at the ground belongs to Bob Stokoe, who was not only born within spitting distance of the Tyne but also played for Newcastle United and who came to Roker Park as a visiting centre half and lauded it over Brian Clough following a challenge that left his career in tatters . And, secondly, Sunderland's midfield is likely to be anchored by the popular Newcastle-born Jack Colback.
Meanwhile, ex-Sunderland favourite Michael Gray, a player who after missing a crucial and costly penalty kick at Wembley for the club only to be instantly revered with chants of 'one Michael Gray', was a guest on Talksport radio and spoke of how fans 'need to question themselves as supporters' for not backing Steve Bruce before pleading with them to give Bruce time. But within an hour of the final whistle on Saturday, Gray himself was posting on Twitter leading the calls for Bruce to be sacked and demanding the appointment of Mark Hughes. If Sunderland's own representatives in the public eye are not prepared to use their media profile to speak fairly on behalf of the club and its fans, preferring instead to bandwagon jump and brown-nose their media friends, even when it contradicts their own views, then what chance have the rest of the fans got?
It must be stressed here that no one is condoning the personal abuse that Bruce received, but merely calling for some balance in the way it is being reported. The situation with Bruce must be judged on the facts, not on friendships, and Sunderland fans should not be exclusively vilified for something that is not exclusive to them by ill-informed members of the media who sit in their ivory towers leeching a living from the game and abusing their positions to push personal agendas. Do these people really see themselves as the moral guardians of football? That goes a very long way to explain the festering moral black hole that football has become.