There are many people you could blame for what has been a shambolic season at Sunderland AFC. From Roy Hodgson putting Harry Kane on corners and forcing the FA to nick our manager, to the dour faced Glaswegian that replaced Sam Allardyce, or perhaps it’s the man in charge of it all, Ellis Short - take your pick.
However, one thing I’ve struggled with over the course of this season is not finding where the blame lies, but rather why this campaign has left me with such a feeling of exasperation and indifference.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint a moment - a game or just some incident - that marks the exact shift that has taken place within our fanbase. Right now we are broken, divided and apathetic to the point of complete disillusion. How exactly do you grind down fans as loyal, committed and passionate as ours?
This indifference to the club’s slide into the Championship is perhaps best embodied within one of our own former cult heroes: our two goal a season striker and former symbol of passion, Fabio Borini.
When Fabio returned to Wearside in 2015 he was welcomed back to the club like a king. Youngsters immediately begged their Dads to get ‘Borini 9’ on the back of their new kit while love sick adults gave the Italian striker the adulation his impressive loan spell a year before had perhaps deserved.
Fabio indeed has a chink of genuine quality within him, but his desire, his fight and the fact that he worse his heart on his sleeve is what brought him such adulation from the Mackem faithful. Two memorable derby strikes, countless important goals in big games and being the only player to wear red and white AND score at Wembley for the first time in a generation meant it would be seemingly impossible for him to fall out of favour with the fans.
Yet somehow he has.
During a frustrating period for the Italian last year the fans often questioned the decision made by Sam Allardyce to leave the mag-slayer on the bench. Knowing the Italian as we did, most of us felt his desire and ability to be the hero of the hour for the club was a far superior option to the likes of Dame N’Doye. We sensed he cared immensely and that he’d battle if given the opportunity to impress. You see that’s the gift of playing for Sunderland - you get back tenfold what you put in. You don’t have to be good (although that would be nice), you just have to care enough and be determined to win at all costs. You have to understand the badge and what it represents. This was something we always trusted Fabio knew.
Fast forward a year, and perhaps we couldn’t have been further from the truth.
It would be unfair to single him out as the only player not fit to wear the jersey, but his fall from grace is perhaps the best example to sum up just how emotionless this club has become. Borini stands out as the Madonna of the Moyes Era, the Godfather of apathy. What has he done this season?
The fifteen & nineteen point seasons painted our club as the figure of ridicule that could easily be made fun of by its peers - and we were indeed made fun of. We, the fans, have found ourselves unable to defend the shambolic 8-0 defeats, crazy managerial appointments and sordid private lives of former wingers. Yet one thing has always remained within the core of us though - togetherness, solidarity and comradeship. The general feeling of "these buggers might be shit, but they’re our shit". That almost wonderful siege mentality which acted as the adhesive by which we were able to stick together through thick and thin.
Yet, that feeling seems to have gone too. In fact, it has been completely obliterated. The feeling of going to a home game is now akin to having sex with a partner you don’t love, or even find attractive anymore. It’s shite, but for some bizarre reason you know at some point you’ll come crawling back.
Fabio Borini is perhaps the greatest example of the permanent damage that this group of spineless players have done to the club. The sight of his lazy, moany little face trudging around the Stadium of Light pitch looking like he’d rather be anywhere other than Wearside is exactly why we have become so disconnected to the eleven intruders we find inhabiting our hallowed turf.
His constant smashing of the side netting and inability to pass a ball, or even track back, has become less infuriating and more expected. He’s not the only one that deserves our wrath, but he certainly is a prime example of the sort of mercenary who has waltzed through our doors the past few seasons, picked up a huge pay packet and delivered sweet bugger all.
The worst part? This is a young lad I, and many others, thought was different. Someone we thought understood what it meant to play for this magnificent club. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t care anymore than the other wasters and that, well that makes me sad.
Perhaps that’s where my apathy comes from - players like him. His performances and attitude this year has made me realise just how far removed from the people and city of Sunderland this squad is. Just how much of a clusterfuck of a team and management set up we have, and just how little these so-called professional footballers understand about us.
So I beg of you, Fabio, from the bottom of my heart: please don’t let the door hit you on the way out.