Friday night’s attendance at the Stadium of Light for the game with Derby County was officially announced as 29,578 - the lowest we’ve had for a league fixture since the last time we were in the Championship a decade ago.
That’s a drop of almost 12,000 from our average attendance in the Premier League last season and whilst on first glance that seems like an awful lot - a quarter of the people who were there last term didn’t turn up on Friday - it’s important to understand the reasons why there were was such a harsh fall in the amount of people attending this campaign’s opening game.
This could actually be the sort of thing we’ll come to expect over the coming season, but a televised Friday night game gives people a reason to actually not go along instead paying for a ticket. Sitting at home in front of the telly with a few cans after work is, after all, a sound enough alternative - especially if you have a family, and taking along your kids to a late game just isn’t an option.
Regardless, some of the criticism levelled at the club from ex-players, people in the media and fans of other clubs has been completely ridiculous, though in truth we’re used to it.
In a post on social media, Newcastle Evening Chronicle journalist Sophie Barley called Sunderland’s support “embarrassing”. The tweet has since been deleted, presumably because Ms Barley realised how much of an arse she had made in alienating members of a fanbase whom her newspaper considers as customers.
Sophie herself being a self-proclaimed Middlesbrough fan only made the outburst all the more ludicrous. The average crowd last season at the Riverside in the Premier League was just over 30,000, whilst the last time our Teesside rivals played in the Championship their average attendance sat at just 24,600.
And whilst he might just have been one of his usual wind-ups, former Sunderland winger James McClean also took to twitter to have a pop at the Stadium of Light support - this coming from a man who’s club averaged just 23,800 fans in the Premier League last season.
Did someone forget to tell the fans the game is tonight #bareeeeee— James McClean (@JamesMcC_14) August 4, 2017
It angers me, seeing mockery and criticism from people that should really know better.
Having asked around, it’s my understanding that we’ve sold about 6,300 season cards less than we did last year - the price paid for such a catastrophic relegation. After such an apathetic season last time around there are thousands of supporters who have lost faith and given up on Sunderland AFC - though, should we start the season well it’s probably safe to assume many people will eventually come back.
We’ve also canned the obscene amount of free ticket hand-outs that have, in previous campaigns, significantly boosted attendances. Around 6000 corporate sponsorship tickets were passed out last season for each game, but Sunderland CEO Martin Bain has put a lid on that and finding tickets for nowt won’t be anywhere near as easy as it was in the past.
Providing you knew the right people, these freebies were readily available and even I began to question why I bothered forking out for a season card when I knew I could get to most games without spending a penny. With the club putting a firm stop to the amount of free tickets they give away - some might say rather stupidly, as having bums in seats is better than nothing - there’s going to be a fair chunk cut from that final attendance figure.
Plus, it can’t be ignored that the game was played in the midst of ‘factory fortnight’ - the time of year when all factories ‘shut’ and workers are given two weeks off - meaning that there will have been a significant number of fans away on holiday with their families.
I suppose that combined with the drop in free tickets being dished out, the absolute dross served up at home last season and the fact the game was televised and played in an untraditional time slot, goes some way to explaining why the crowd at the Stadium of Light appeared so low.
The true barometer of how many people we can expect to regularly turn out for games this season will come once we have a untelevised 3pm fixture on a Saturday. Regardless, 29,000 is still an absolutely fantastic turnout at this level.
And though our Stadium is large, mockery of a fanbase that have been so badly damaged in recent years by the sheer amount of crap football we’ve had to put up with, coming from people outside of our club, is dumbfounding.