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Sunderland Echo Acknowledge Fan’s Anger; Reporter’s Tale Is A Lesson For All

It all started less than a week ago with a couple of supporters noting a peculiar feature of The Sunderland Echo’s new SAFC journalist, Liam Kennedy. Six days, a public apology and a newspaper under pressure later, and the chapter appears to have come to a close with the newspaper moving him to alternative duties.

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Last Tuesday, Newcastle United thrashed Queens Park Rangers. If the result registered little more than a shrug on Wearside, a couple of Sunderland fans noted a surprising enthusiasm for the result from new Echo journalist Liam Kennedy.

Pondering Kennedy’s rumoured status as a Newcastle supporter, Mackems on Sunderland’s Readytogo forum and on twitter passed the evening considering that his background might lead to a little light ribbing in his new role covering SAFC. If Liam thought he was in for a short-lived frosty but good-natured welcome, he was oblivious to the furore about to emerge.

In truth, the warnings were already there. Having cut his journalistic teeth during four years in Dundee, his farewell article to the people of Scotland’s fourth largest city invited them to share in the incredulity he felt at leaving them to cover Sunderland:

"Pastures new are calling and Premier League football with the Sunderland Echo. Yes you did read that right – Sunderland".

Little did fans, or presumably his new employer, realise at that point, but Mr Kennedy in fact had a history of using his column for the Dundee Evening Telegraph to chronicle his following of Newcastle United. His musings were also occasionally smattered with a dose of anti-Sunderland comment.

Admittedly, it was pretty mundane stuff. Oh how they must have giggled, or at least Liam did, but the old saying of words returning to haunt their author simply could not have been more foretelling than in this curious tale.

Because, his repartee at the expense of Sunderland in the column inches of the Dundee newspaper, belied a hidden plethora of private musings of a rather more offensive manner.

By last Wednesday, some social media detectives had located a photo of Kennedy with his "NUFC" tattoo on full display and a varied assortment of abusive terms for the people of Sunderland and supporters of its football club.

By Friday he had issued an apology. A glib affair, it patently misjudged the mood. Apologising for his social media comments, Kennedy explained "It was a long time ago" and appealed to readers to consider his family and his livelihood.

Fair enough, except it wasn’t a long time ago; it was just December gone when he was still active in his newspaper column looking forward to "the biggest laugh" should Sunderland be relegated and proclaiming there could be little worse than purchasing his children a red-and-white shirt.

Pressure continued over the weekend; likely not aided by the "apology". If The Echo and Mr Kennedy had hoped a Sunderland win would appease the faithful and that their mood would lighten with three points at White Hart Lane, David Moyes’ charges proved why they should never be relied upon, by failing miserably.

Faced with a growing chorus of complaints and no doubt due to the fact that word had reached Sunderland AFC themselves, The Echo clearly felt it had little option but to formally remove Liam Kennedy from his official capacity as a "Sunderland AFC reporter" with the issuing of a statement proclaiming that they had listened to their readers.

And let that be the end of the matter. Not many people wished to see Liam Kennedy lose his livelihood, I’m sure of that. That was not what this was about. There is plenty of other content for a man with Liam’s qualifications and experience to report on at the city’s newspaper. Good luck to him.

This was about how a proud fan base, following a proud club, in a proud city are served. The Sunderland Echo has a long history of representing this city and the modern-day custodians of the newspaper have a duty to stay true to its past. The position of SAFC reporter carries with it a certain weight and a certain lineage. The modern-day Argus must surely represent that.

It also is a moral of footballing rivalry and a timely reminder that the supporter’s voice remains loud and proud in the modern game. PR gurus will recount tales of 'Liam Kennedy and The Sunderland Echo' in years to come. They will proclaim it as an example of how an institution can get things so completely wrong in misjudging their customers and place it alongside such disasters as Gerald Ratner's speech that wiped $400m from his company's value and the Krispy Kreme Klub ("KKK") slogan for doughnuts.

It should also serve as a prompt to anyone going for a job this week to check and double check their social media history. There’s a funny thing about the written word – it can and will come back to bite you, if you’re not careful.