Football is nothing without fans. Each and every corner of this nation is populated a legion of followers loyal to their respective clubs; from the most bustling cities to the quaintest hamlets, there are people who can’t help falling in love with their team.
As a collective voice of a people united under one stadium, the fans speak for their team on behalf of their region. A town will cry out come win, lose or draw; they’ll place it’s footballers on a pedestal to bask in their glory, or they’ll hold them on trial for crimes against competence.
They’re justified in their critique regardless of which course of action they take. Yet there’s an expectancy for fanbases to act in certain ways - to behave in accordance with wrongly accepted convention - and this becomes all too apparent when the football clubs they support start to go under.
And what better example for such a contingent than the lads and lasses of Sunderland Association Football Club?
As you very well know - as any follower of football very well knows - Sunderland have endured a torrid couple of seasons. A horrendous campaign with David Moyes followed by what has hitherto been an equally abysmal one with his slightly brighter, slightly more inept counterpart has left its people disconnected and downtrodden.
If you were to attend this Saturday’s home clash with Bristol City, you would walk up a flight of stairs, out of a gangway and into a ground with two thirds of its seats vacant - encompassed by a thin veil of atmosphere consisting mainly of groans and mutterings.
And you can’t blame them.
Like I said, the fans are the voice of a city that has the liberty to speak on behalf of its football team, and if said team hasn’t won a single home game in 2017, then the statement the fans make should rightly reflect that.
But this simple law of cause and effect isn’t endorsed in football. No, instead fans are told that, in order to be considered ‘real’ supporters of their club, they have to react with a wholeheartedly passionate indignation to their club’s situation if all isn’t going well. An infuriatingly unjust notion, once you start digging into it.
If you truly love your club - we’re told - then you have to stick by them regardless of what’s going on behind the scenes. But why should we? Why should we show passion for a club that won’t reflect our sentiments?
The issue here is that, because the fans are such a visible and vocal aspect of Sunderland’s overall football constitution, they’re more easily targeted and criticised for their actions.
When the masses start pouring out on the 70 minute mark because we’re getting battered by another mediocre Championship side, we’re ostracized for not meeting the expectations of a loyal fanbase. They’re only so much energy a supporter can give for their team until the fight is well and truly kicked out of them.
If we don’t have a gate of 40,000 per home game and a multitude of different Bolsehvik-esque fan factions set up, then we’re not doing enough. Instead we have the nerve to feel disconnected from a team that gives us virtually no reason to be optimistic.
Simon Grayson’s post-match presser following the 5-2 tanking at Portman Road should reassure you that I’m not just blowing smoke with my theory here:
Results like this will bring people out the woodwork, who are moaning and complaining and have probably never been to Ipswich on a Tuesday night or not really been up and down the country... on the other side there is a lot of supporters who have done and have a right to voice an opinion.
A downtrodden fan still has to travel the lengths of the country to watch a losing team if they want to still be able to call themselves a fan, apparently.
Lamine Kone ‘picks up’ an injury for a club he’s paid to play for and it’s it’s spoken about in whispers, but if the fans won’t pay to watch the consequence of his laziness then they’re alienated from the virtues of pride and loyalty. How does that work, exactly?
Ultimately, my point here is this. If you’re a Sunderland supporter, act in a way you believe is deserving of the team we support. We shouldn’t be expected to jump through hoops while our club rots from the inside out.