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Make Your Case: Are Sunderland a ‘big club’?

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It's an age old debate and the answer for which side you fall on completely depends on your own definition of what a big club actually even is, but are Sunderland what you would call a big club? In this week's Make Your Case, Bowers and Chris are arguing the toss over what they feel is the right answer. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Manchester City v Sunderland - Capital One Final Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Bowers - Yes!

When I think of what makes a big club, several factors spring to mind. A big club doesn’t need to have all of these factors to be categorised as a big club, but they should certainly tick the majority of the boxes.

Modern football has a plethora of big clubs, and I would argue that some of those clubs have gone beyond what is required to be considered big. Teams like Manchester United and Chelsea are what I would label elite clubs - they are beyond other clubs due to their financial prowess that enables them to achieve success through investment alone.

But does a club need an incredibly impressive bank balance or a cabinet full of recent silverware to be labelled a big club? Not necessarily. Big clubs have history, as well as success, and often dwarf other clubs both higher and lower in reputation via passion, desire and a willingness to fight.

Let me be clear, I know a big stadium doesn't mean you are entitled to success, but the fact that the Stadium of Light averages around 40,000 home fans per game - higher than a good number of teams above us in the table - suggests just how passionate the fans are, and how much they love this club. If we are being brutally honest the club currently doesn't deserve its fiercely loyal fans due to its exceedingly poor displays in recent seasons, but the support and passion to be found at our club, elevate us to be considered a big club.

We have an absolutely fantastic fan base and one that is criminally underrated. In addition to the ever impressive home attendance figures, we continue to sell out the majority of our away games season after season despite, in my opinion, severely underachieving on the pitch. Big clubs need fanatical fans, and Sunderland have those in abundance.

Manchester City v Sunderland - Capital One Final Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Furthermore, we will have been in the Premier League for 10 years by the time this season finishes. TEN. Not once, not twice, not even three times, TEN. To have ten years of top-level football is something to be celebrated, how many other clubs have come and gone in that time? Sunderland have remained and will continue to be regarded as a great club due to our status as a long-term Premier League outfit.

Also, if you take into account, regardless of the circumstances in which they've arrived, the quality players signed in recent years, then you will see Sunderland are considered a worthy destination by some of the game’s top players. Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan, and Jermain Defoe are just a few who have been absolute quality signings while the likes of Danny Welbeck, Danny Rose and Jonny Evans cut their teeth at the club on their path to stardom. Players like those aforementioned know a good club when they see one, and whilst Bent and Gyan eloped for more money elsewhere, they never managed to enhance their reputations after leaving the club.

But it’s not just in the transfer market where we’ve had some glimmers of real quality. Look to our recent academy graduates, and you’ll see that we are beginning to find success in growing our own future stars. Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford are both England internationals who will be big name players for many years to come, whilst Lynden Gooch - already an international footballer - is tipped by many to be another success. Duncan Watmore came in at a young age from Altrincham but has continued to impress in the first team while George Honeyman has also found game time this season. Look even deeper into the academy setup and young players such as Joel Asoro, Elliot Embleton, and Oscar Krusnell - bright futures lay ahead for them all. Big clubs produce good talent, and Sunderland are holding their own in that regard.

While we will never be as big as the elite teams, from my own subjective viewpoint, Sunderland are a big club. Just look at the aforementioned factors: facilities, personnel, passion and support - they all suggest that Sunderland is a big club currently embroiled in a period of transition. It's about time these long suffering supporters were rewarded for their faith.


Chris - No!

Firstly let me define what I feel a big club really is - it’s certainly a difficult term to quantify with many factors coming into play. However, my view is that a big club is simply a team that is successful on the field - I know, stating the obvious!

Across various media platforms, Sunderland have been viewed as a ‘sleeping giant’ and a ‘big club that constantly underachieves’ since their return to Premier League ten years ago. This annoys me. Yes, I love the club and will support them through thick and thin, but to label us as a big club, the same club who have achieved one major trophy in the last 50 years, is quite ridiculous.

So what else could define us as a ‘big club’? Our stadium and training facilities are second-to-none, there is no denying that. However, can you base how big a club is based on the size of their stadium or the quality of their facilities?

Leeds, Derby County, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Wolves, Blackburn, Nottingham Forest are all clubs in the lower leagues with grounds that have a capacity of over 30,000 - and yet their best days are firmly behind them. Having a large stadium, to me, doesn't determine what a big club is.

Everton v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

You could argue that our training facilities are at the level of an Arsenal and Manchester United and you wouldn't be wrong. However, one of the initial purposes of building a top class facility was to help to attract a calibre of player to take us to the next level of a ‘big club’ and as we all know, since the facilities were built, years of turmoil and disruption have led to us attracting just a handful of quality players to the region.

And finally, our fanbase. I can’t really say anything new about how our fans make the club what it is and how we support the team through the best and worst of times. It’s known nationally and probably even globally how fanatical we are about football on Wearside, with documentaries created Stateside recently highlighting just that. We deserve better, we know we do, but as great as our support is, I don’t believe that how well a team is supported defines how big their club is - and if the club was as successful as its fans are passionate then we would be challenging the top four every year, but sadly that’s not the case.

As much as I would love for Sunderland to be a ‘big club’, we simply aren’t. We’re not a big club underachieving, nor are we a small club overachieving, we’re just an average-sized club who trundle along every season hoping for the best and narrowly avoiding the worst.


Who do you agree with - are Sunderland what you would call a 'big club'? Let us know in the comments section below.