Over the last week or so, I’ve set myself the challenge of avoiding being overly critical of the club. It’s clear for all to see that things aren’t going well, but I want to try and focus on positives - no matter how small or insignificant they might seem.
It honestly feels like as a fanbase we’ve been conditioned to see the negative in everything that emerges from the club. And while much of that negativity and subsequent criticism are certainly valid objections that deserve to be raised, it’s also something of a curse that prevents us from identifying positives when they present themselves.
That’s why I was so pleased to see the positive reaction emerging from the club’s recent Fan Fest day hosted at the Stadium of Light. Smiles on faces, the players treated as heroes capable of no wrong, and various activities aimed at encouraging youngsters to follow their local side - an incredibly difficult task to accomplish in a society driven by social media which places the world of successful, eye-catching football at the tips of our fingers - it was genuinely fantastic to witness.
Fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss once said that:
When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.
And for all our inadequacies this season both on the pitch and off it too, seeing those young lads and lasses wearing their hearts on their sleeves was an inspiring sight.
Sometimes (most of the time) supporting Sunderland just doesn’t feel fun. The day we lose our innocence, the day we begin to fret about the club - it’s not just the day we lose our childhood, but it’s the day we lose that ability to truly just love our team and the players no matter their shortcomings.
I only hope the players took heart from seeing the beaming faces of those youngsters; that the day implanted a resolve within that group to lose the chips on their shoulders, and to play with a renewed sense of vigor and fight.
The Lads take the chance to have pics and sign autographs for fans pic.twitter.com/xSqut4R62O— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) October 23, 2017
Honestly, it might seem a little out there, but I truly believe that the Fan Fest could be the olive branch that catalyzes our daunted players into action.
Days like this can be just as important as a hard day’s graft on the training ground. Psychologically you’d like to hope that this will revitalize the players somehow, that they can go out now with a newfound sense of self-confidence that only the love of those too innocent to criticise can provide.
Subsequently, the club deserve a solid pat on the back for the planning that went into creating such a great event. They’ve come in for a lot of stick lately, but events like this are something we can be proud of. A simple social media search tells you everything you need to know about the positivity it generated - and that’s something the club desperately needs right now in order to lift itself from this slumber.
Think back to last season as the team’s trip to Nissan and the unveiling of the Charlie Hurley gates at the ground preceded arguably our best performances of a relatively rotten campaign. Perhaps the emotional connection forged in those brief moments of genuine community spirit are exactly what’s needed to bring the club and fans back together?
I couldn’t help but feel a metaphoric light-bulb illuminate in the darkened recesses of my cob-web ridden dome when reading our interview with Kevin Ball. He spoke about a unique way in which he boosted morale through connecting the players with the fans:
I decided it would be a good idea to take them down the seafront. My point was I wanted them to go out and speak to people. I wanted them to see how people reacted to them. People drove past, tooted their horns, wanted photos with them - the lot. When we got back to the gatehouse; all the lads agreed they had fun. “We haven’t done that before” they were saying and so on. I asked them how many of those fans - remember we were on twelve points at this time and already relegated - gave them s**t and had a go at them, and how many waved, tooted horns and wanted photos? I waited for them to realise and I said, “well win it for them, because you owe ‘em”.
Hopefully the powers that be within the club see the merit that this kind of relationship-fostering can bring to a club. It’s not clever phrasing and niche marketing that gets fans back onside - it’s heartfelt connections forged through familiarity and victory.
After all, it’s a lot easier to encourage someone you know cares and makes an effort, and days like the Fan Fest could be just the perk needed as we look to find victories of our own.