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SAFC Don't Do Enough To Recognise Their Legends - But They're Trying To Fix It

Cutting the red ribbon bound to either side of the iconic training-ground gates baring his name, Charlie Hurley was a perfect representation of everything that is great about Sunderland on Saturday afternoon.

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Flanked either side by David Moyes and Martin Bain, the 80-year old club legend smiled as wide as the River Wear, proudly waving to the cameras and supporters gathered around the south side of the Stadium of Light to applaud the ceremony held in his honour.

And whilst we cannot accurately predetermine Sunderland's future path it is nice that, regardless of our present situation, we are able to reflect on the memories and the history that this football club is overwhelmingly steeped in. Even just getting the chance - even if it is our last chance - to commemorate everything that a player as great as Charlie Hurley did for the city and the Sunderland people during much tougher times than now should fill us all with immense warmth and satisfaction.

Memories are being made every day, even if we don't necessarily know it. Jermain Defoe could - and most probably should - go down as one of the greatest footballers to have played for our club in the modern era and it's undoubted that in years to come we'll fondly reminisce the times that he spent as a Sunderland player - the giant crowd surfer displaying his image and name that passes along the South Stand at every home game is proof of just how much the Sunderland supporters adore the ex-England forward. It is, at it's core, an affectionate portrayal from a fan base that constantly craves heroism from the footballers that represent their team on the pitch.

In recent years, however, it would be fair to suggest that those running Sunderland have often overlooked and forgotten our roots and have placed more focus on becoming a bigger and more-rounded corporate entity.

Opening day home fixtures and fan-attended open-training sessions during the school holidays were sacrificed so that we could attract non-football supporters to the Stadium for pop concerts. Instead of going into local communities to assist and work along side the very people that support the club, more focus was placed on exploring 'untapped markets' in far-flung places that, to date, have not benefitted from our influence.

Around the outside of the Stadium of Light things aren't much better - other than the fan-funded Bob Stokoe statue which resides outside of the South East corner, you wouldn't learn a great deal about the history or legacy of a football club that was founded 137 years ago.

Our stands aren't named after past greats like at many other grounds around the country, where clubs have elected to recognise those that have left the longest lasting impression. In the past campaigns to have stands renamed in honour of Niall Quinn and Sir Bob Murray were quietly dismissed, whilst bars and food stalls along the concourse of the Stadium displaying the names and pictures of past legends were replaced with generic signage that, presumably, came along with their latest catering contract.

Thankfully our CEO, Martin Bain, aims to change all of that. It's no coincidence that we gave Charlie Hurley and the move of those iconic gates their own day for celebration with Bain at the club - and he promises that there is more to come.

Charlie Hurley Day was a humongous step in the right direction. Removing the gates from their former home in Whitburn, giving them a lick of paint in the process, and placing them outside of the Stadium of Light is a sign from the club that they are aiming to alter their their approach.

Bain has held several meetings with the Former Players Association - now chaired by our esteemed former captain Gary Bennett - in order to get their members more involved on match days and in the Academy of Light, working with our next generation of home-grown talent. It's a small step but it's a key indicator that the club really are serious about becoming more grounded and less focused on their achievements outside of the North East, reconnecting with a fan base and a community that craves their love and attention now more than ever.

Making more of an effort to reengage with past players, managers and staff is crucial if we are to recapture the interest of a young, disenfranchised fanbase. Ensuring that each and every child that steps through the turnstiles at the Stadium of Light is educated properly about the history of our club is of peak importance as we step forward into this new era under Bain's direction.

Here's hoping that he continues to strive to deliver on his promise - Hurley Day cannot just be a one off.

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