One of the best things about football is its rivalry. Tension, bitterness and sometimes hatred is passed down through the generations and is synonymous with the very essence of the sport.
This plays out in several ways, on the pitch, in the stands and now on social media. The latter can often bring out the more ridiculous aspects of a rivalry. In 2017 we live in the age of “LADbantz” and a thirst for recognition through the medium of likes and retweets. The problem with this is that instead of any actual analysis of a situation it is much easier for someone to have a cheap dig to try and get one up over someone else.
We, as fans of Sunderland, have been victims of this ourselves. Instead of looking at the root problem of our horrendous home form over the past five years or so, everyone from notorious banter hound Gary Lineker to Joe Bloggs decides to mock Sunderland fans for leaving early again, whilst simultaneously ignoring every other club in the country doing the same thing on a weekly basis.
This week it has been Manchester City’s turn to be under the spotlight due to having unsold tickets for this Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal. People quite rightly point out that 10 years ago this fixture would have sold out within days, and this is a sign of Manchester City fans becoming like the Pigs in Animal Farm - turning into the powerful elite they always swore to hate.
I see the argument from a slightly different point, however. People seem to forget that whilst success at City has attracted a certain degree of tourists and bandwagon jumpers it is still largely the same fans that follow Manchester City home and away. In 2006-07 they averaged almost exactly 40,000, the 6th highest in the Premier League that year. Even in the third tier of English football they attracted crowds over 30,000. So in most cases the answer to the question “where were you when you were shit?” is either Maine Road, or the Etihad.
Just because a football team is nouveau riche does not mean the supporters are. Manchester City supporters still come from working class communities in Manchester itself or towns in Greater Manchester such as Stockport or Rochdale. Of course, a great number of United fans also hail from Manchester, but if traditional hardcore Manchester United fans don’t snap up tickets for games like Sunday they have supporters all over the world who will take advantage of them. City simply don’t have this geographical spread of support - at least not yet.
Therefore, it is important to stand with City fans regarding an issue that affects every northern club. Ask yourself the question why do the FA Cup semi-finals take place at Wembley? Of course we all know it’s an ego trip from the FA to justify the expenditure on building the new national stadium, but it’s not fair on supporters based miles away from the capital.
Consider a fan from the north of England - who survives on an income proportionate to their geographical location - should they be expected to pay for an expensive match ticket, transport to the match and London prices for the weekend? An Arsenal fan, on the other hand, has a short tube ride to the ground. How is this fair?
For many fans having the semi-final at a show piece venue devalues the whole event, even more so if you have been to Wembley on many occasions over the past few years. For an average working class family, having to fork out for two expensive Wembley dates within a month of each other simply isn’t right and it’s another example of the contempt the FA show for the humble origins of the sport.
In 2014, if Gus Poyet had fielded a proper side at Hull we may have found ourselves with at least two chances to visit Wembley. Now with these trips being so rare I would have robbed, borrowed and stolen my way to the capital. But I’m a young lad with no ties or responsibilities, and the decision to follow my club across the length and breadth of the country only impacts me. Many men and women with families to provide for are not so lucky.
Therefore, I urge people to try and see the bigger picture before retweeting the latest piece of zany banter on Twitter; think of the wider implications it can have for us all as supporters. At the end of the day it’s us who makes this sport the spectacle it is. Not the FA, not the board - us, the fans, the people.