My instincts on Saturday afternoon were combustible emotions like anger, bitterness and outrage. 48 hours later and I’m in a more placid state where contemplation has evolved my melancholy into less explosive but significantly more unnerving emotions like sadness, apprehension and foreboding.
These are the exact reactions all successful horror writers are determined to manipulate. They toy with our inner most fears, connect to our senses and then shake them relentlessly until they weld together into an emotional jam that leaves a reader uncertain of themselves. These feelings are more intolerable than the quick to burn and equally quick to reduce reactions of instinct. These emotions linger, they stick to the fabric of your skin and interweave their poisonous influence into aspects of your life you’d least expect. They strangle, they choke and negatively symbolise something we all fear - the unknown. They point to a future laced in uncertainty and drenched in anxiety.
Psychologist bible, Psychology Today have researched the impact of horror fiction and why its key elements are successful in infecting our senses and in keeping readers obsessed by their addictive ills. If the same analytical minds sat with Sunderland supporters every week I am certain they would recognise identical aspects of ‘the horrific’ in our weekly pilgrimages of suffering.
A board of regional Psychologists pointed to several key elements that structure the most successful horrors and the long suffering souls who inhabit the Stadium of Light or the patient depressives who listen religiously on the radio or watch on TV will undoubtedly recognise. I have chosen three to focus on, but we’d associate all of them with our support.
No.1 - Fear of the unknown dark
As the transfer window dragged its limping corpse towards its close, we Sunderland fans were pathetically isolated by the unknown components of our transfer policy. Every morning we’d check NewsNow or Skysports and much to our confusion we saw nothing of note. This only increased the fear among us. We were left in sporting blackness when it came to budget, strategy and targets. The very intention of our policy created anxiety as did the media misdirection that was sourced from the club. Did we have a mid-range budget? Were we going to see any of the Pickford money? What were our aims?
Martin Bain was a catalyst of our angst with glaring duplicitous intention aimed at keeping the plebs at bay until another PR-fueled excuse was necessary. After the confirmation of our obvious relegation, our glorious public face declared:
Our aim is to form a plan and strategy that will make us competitive in the league and enable us to bounce back straight back up at the first time of asking.
Even the seemingly humble man of the people, Simon Grayson provided an air of positive reassurance that flickered just enough light to keep us hopeful:
We don’t have the biggest budget but we don’t have the smallest budget. We have a budget that will make us competitive in this league.
So we bottled our optimism and continued to move forward into the haunted mansion even though our instincts hinted there was doom around the corner. Now we all know our hope was rewarded with nothing. When we searched for clarity it wasn’t forthcoming. This left us anxious and confused. Do we have money or don’t we? Is Short continuing his support or not? Is Bain a legitimate leader or a shameless flirt with no intention of marrying us after all?
Then there was the farce of the takeover. There were so few details that blindness was our only ally. We were forced to take a step over the bridge, not knowing if it was stable enough to hold our weight. After the scandal of the agonising wait we were victims of misdirection again, this time from Short:
We have concluded these talks( with potential buyers) and have determined that this proposed sale would not be in the best interests of Sunderland AFC.
I will continue my commitment to the club, both financially and personally, moving forward.
On a side note, if our potential owners were less bothered about the best interests of Sunderland than Ellis Short, then who exactly were they? Was it a consortium whose public relations front man was Count Dracula and whose shady investors behind the scenes were Jack the Ripper and the Grim Reaper? It makes me shiver to think there are those who were even more intent on destabilising us than our very own Texan slasher.
So we can only conclude they didn’t give Short the money he needed and his nonsense about ‘moving the club forward,’ was a sick effort at maintaining the status quo of our hopeful addiction. Using our faithfulness as a weapon against us. Once more this left us in the dark with a sense of uncertainty.
Now rumours of further financial issues are swirling around Wearside, ratcheting up the tension of supporters and pushing us inch by inch closer the edge of a cliff shrouded in darkness. We have no clue about our long term fiscal future. We don’t know the truth about whether or not we’ll be alright. I’m sure we still will be, but like all successful scary tales, the Directors of this particular horror story leave the ending open, in the hope supporters will pay for a sequel or to keep them attending in blind faith for a positive outcome around the corner that never seems to arrive.
No.2 - A list of unstable characters that keep their audience just as unbalanced
Where do we start? From top to bottom we are littered with the terrifying spectres of shadowy figures attempting the vain subterfuge of professional football. But like all the best ghosts - we see straight through them.
I’m not one for picking out individuals per say and I don’t quite buy the mantra that none of the players care - certainly they don’t care as much as we do - but we don’t expect that do we? I don’t believe these sensitive creatures desire to be booed whenever they touch the ball or misfire an open goal into the stands. I’m not sure if what I watched last Saturday, as the afternoon sun seemed to intensify my discomfort, was a lack of emotional connection. What was far more disturbing to my eye was an alarming lack of quality and ability. This I find scarier than bad attitudes, because attitudes can be fixed, but just not having the ability to do something that must be done is a catalyst to footballing doomsday.
Horror stories intentionally keep their protagonists unstable, because writers want that sense of unease to seep into the frailties of their audience. And when it comes to a lack of stability, then some of our players would fit into any slice of horror fiction at any time.
In our ranks we are filled to the brim with characters that leave us frustrated, baffled and uneasy. Nearly all the core bases are covered:
- Scary Clowns? You got IT.
- Invisible Men? Take your pick.
- A Ghost of their former selves? Certainly.
- Thoughtless Zombies who do nothing but run around aimlessly with no sense of direction hoping to infect others to do the same? Yes - in abundance.
- Vampires who suck the joy and lifeblood out of those around them? Where do I begin?
Okay I’ll stop - but you get my point. No matter how you look at it we’ve been hoodwinked by one of the greatest elements in horror - not the blood soaked meat cleaver or razor sharp axe, but something more disturbing - the psychological trick of misdirection. This is where the audiences allow themselves to be hoodwinked by believing they are on path to safety, only to have the carpet pulled out beneath them to realise that safety was never on their radar. I’m as guilty any. I’ve bought into the crass cover stories myself out of a sense of deluded optimism and perhaps because believing the truth about the harsh darkness of reality will reveal the full direness of our situation.
The hook was:
Don’t worry everyone; we’ve got a core of premier league stars who Moyes failed to motivate and we’ll compliment them with hungry players that will bleed for the shirt. Add the magic of a wily old wizard or mystical alchemist to gather all the elements together and we’ll have a team fighting for the top.
Middlesbrough and Wolves haven’t bothered with such fanciful nonsense - they don’t want unnecessary cliff hangers. They’ve known where they were aiming from the start and prepared accordingly to get there. Our more malevolent puppet masters have likewise known where we were aiming from the start and have prepared accordingly to get there, but have prayed on our weaknesses and encouraged us to believe our destiny will be something quite different.
But the reality is stark. Our team is a quilted mix of Premier league rejects, young loanees with no experience, promoted youth team players getting a game out of desperation and league one standard squad players who have previously flopped in the Championship. Our budget was a relegation zone budget and yet how did we not immediately presume we were in a relegation fight?
No.3 - All good creators of horror have a scary place that sustains a bad atmosphere
Lastly, all good horrors have an intimidating location or place. In standard horror it is usually in the form of a haunted mansion, a graveyard or an empty/abandoned warehouse. From my seat on Saturday I think we covered all of those bases in the space of one match! Far from being a fortress of positivity, the Stadium of Light has become a citadel of stress, a palace of panic or and castle of rejection. The noise from the Sheffield mob was matched by our anxious indifference. Our perilous nervous state prevented us from singing or chanting any ditty that represents hope of optimism. It was graveyard-like - a place we all just sat and waited for God or blackness to free us from this cycle of disappointment.
Towards the end the SOL took the form of an abandoned warehouse. Eerily empty and not currently fulfilling the reason for its conception or build. Thanks to the author of our current horror, the one place we feel safety in numbers and solidarity in union is no longer fit for purpose. It was as dull as dishwater and when the United fans were screaming, ‘shall we sing a song for you?’ no-one had the energy, the belief or will to even answer back. We accepted our fate and like all good fall guys, choked silently on while the killers of hope and dreams looked on from lofty towers unbothered by the pale pathetic surrender of our plight.
Ellis Short and Martin Bain have coerced and conspired to fail this great club time and time again. As each week goes by they write another chapter into the never ending saga of our own sporting horror - but this is not fiction. For us this is VERY real. Will they leave us with a blistering finale where good finally overcomes the odds to defeat evil? Or will they leave us to struggle on like a limp old dog, until we collapse on our own accord? Time will tell. But I am not hopeful we will make it past the cliff hanger.