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The North East Football Press, The Great Double Standard, And The Total Oblivion To It

The north east football press are, in my experience, a thoroughly decent and talented bunch of people - with one fairly troublesome blind spot.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Sunderland were able to sneak past Leeds United and progress into the fourth round of the FA Cup at the Stadium of Light. It wasn't brilliant but there were no real dramas and it's nice to have some genuine interest in Monday night's draw.

However, I couldn't help but wonder what the press reaction would have been had Sunderland crashed out. Would the season be declared ‘over'? Would fans be defended as perpetual innocent victims of a failing football club?

In fact, I asked that very question on Twitter and whilst members of the north east press pack did respond and give me an answer (‘no', if you were wondering), no one was really able to offer any real explanation as to why not.

This was, after all, after a downright angry reaction from the press at Newcastle United's exit at Leicester City.

I do need to take a moment to stress, at this point, that I know many members of the football press in this region and there is absolutely no conscious notions of bias, apart from the odd name we all know about. There is no conspiracy and, for the most part, they do an excellent job in what can be a very tricky region to cover given the passions involved. They've always been generous with me, this website, and the opportunities afforded to both.

Their coverage of Sunderland is, as far as I'm concerned, very good indeed too. You know, provided no one lets Don Hutchison open his mouth about Lee Cattermole.

And yet, there is no question that there is a general perception among Sunderland fans of inequality of reporting in the north east. From conversations I've had, the press are certainly aware of the perception, whilst absolutely denying its accuracy, and genuinely wish to change it. Let me state this and let me be clear: there is, fundamentally, no general anti-Sunderland agenda among the north east football press that I have ever witnessed.

However, that doesn't make it wrong for Sunderland fans to suspect or be irked accordingly. It doesn't really bother me personally, I have to say, but I can see why it would be a bone of contention for many and it's worth exploring.

Perhaps an analogy can best illustrate it. Picture the scene: Two young children sit around the table with their parents with crayons and paper. They are twins, by no means identical but sharing far more similarities than differences. They draw their pictures, both poor efforts, and show them to their parents.

Now, imagine they take a look at the first one and rage. They blast the child for letting themselves down, screaming at them that they are capable of so much better than this rubbish before tearing the picture up and tossing it on the fire. They then turn to the other child's work, say ‘aaaaaaaah, you did your best, well done' and then return to lecturing the first child about the dangers of wasted potential.

That, right there, is north east football reporting in a nutshell right now.

I've been told that because we went to Wembley last season we should be more patient in our footballing frustration. I'm not sure how that works, really. The League Cup final, as a fan, left me no less desperate to see my club excel.

Ok, so we had a real go at a competition and did something of note, but was it any more of ‘a go' than Newcastle's excellent league campaign a couple seasons ago? Let's also not forget that Newcastle have had a Europa League and League Cup quarter final in the last couple of years.

I'm told that Sunderland are moving in the right direction, and I think that's right. I don't see why that dampens my desire for success, though. It also raises the question of why there was, relatively speaking, so little outrage displayed by the press at us being in the bad place in the first place, particularly when our neighbours being knocked out of the FA Cup whilst sitting in the top ten for the second season in a row is such an apparently, and appallingly, rage-inducing state of affairs.

I can even accept that Sunderland's performance last season in the Capital One cup has almost certainly increased the thirst on Tyneside for a similar experience. That's just the way it works up here, for both sides.

However, I don't remember cries from an indignant press at Sunderland's poor performance in the league when Newcastle were finishing fifth and enjoying the European football that it brought. There was no impassioned regular sermons about how I, as a fan, deserved better as a result of their success fuelling my jealousy.

Newcastle fans say they don't expect too much and all they want is to see their club progress and have a go at actually achieving something, and it's a perspective that is always backed to the rafters. I don't begrudge them that ambition.

I just don't know how that distinguishes them from any sets of fans anywhere in the whole world, and certainly not Sunderland. What do people think I want to see Sunderland do? If they think that all I want to see from my club is endless survival - and that is the inference by the distinction - and then wonder why fans believe they are often being talked down to, then I struggle to get my head around the confusion.

Let's not forget that Sunderland were the last of the two clubs to win anything meaningful and the nearest to doing it again in recent times. We are either both sleeping giants deserving of more success, both shamefully underachieving clubs deserving of lament, both both, or both neither. No one has done enough to create grey areas.

Fact is, whilst it's not by design, accusations from the Sunderland supporters at inequality of reporting on football in the north east have substance. The message is repeatedly clear, intentional or not: Newcastle fans are entitled to always expect more, Sunderland fans are not.

It doesn't offend me, and may be it should, but you can't ignore it.

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