Last month the FSF (Football Supporters’ Federation) released an article discussing the findings of their National Supporters’ Survey which attracted over 8,500 responses; it was an intriguing read that raised some incredibly important points.
The findings reveal that only one-third (32%) of fans feels their club cares about them and their views, while more than two-thirds (68%) said Premier League teams focussed too much on their global brand to the detriment of their local fan base. This is despite the fact 51% of fans surveyed live within 15 miles of the stadium.
That initial statistic is quite haunting in itself: when did the working man’s game become so detached and distant? How can these businesses neglect their main source of support? How can these community icons allow themselves to become so isolated and unwelcoming?
Just when did football abandon its roots?
It’s a question that’s crossed my mind several times in the last few years as Sunderland meandered their way toward the Championship, where they’ve done little to revitalize themselves either on or off the pitch.
Discussing how fans deserve to be treated warrants an article of its own, but it is clear to see that many other fans feel like they’re just not that important to their club - which brings me nicely onto the next point:
90% of fans want a greater say in how their club is run and believe there should be supporter representation on their club’s board.
When your club is winning games I imagine it’s pretty easy to put the misgivings to one side and to simply cheer the fact that you’re relatively good. Unfortunately that’s just not a luxury that Sunderland fans can really even dream of right now. Something needs to change.
Simply discuss with a group of fellow Mackems, or have a browse on social media and you’ll see that Sunderland fans aren’t happy. Whether it’s the players’ fault, the manager’s or indeed the Board’s - fans are fed up with defeat after defeat; it’s only natural. Wins would be nice, and we’d be much happier if that was the case - but unfortunately it’s not and we currently find ourselves sitting third from bottom with one win in our opening nine games.
It’s why after learning about new fan initiative Red & White Army, I feel a tangible sense of excitement. The FSF’s assertion that 90% of fans want to be more involved in the direction in which their club is heading shows the disparity between club and fans. However, initiatives like Red & White Army could be just what’s needed in order to bridge that widening chasm of solitude.
In a recent Q&A with Roker Report, the group stated that:
The Red and White Army is a fully democratic, inclusive and independent supporters group which aims to give a voice to all Sunderland fans. Its goal is to inform, liaise with and communicate with the club in the hope of strengthening fan relationships with Sunderland AFC, to the benefit of all supporters. We're not here to replace or repeat the good work undertaken by some of the well-established, existing supporter groups. In fact, we hope our approach will complement their efforts.
Surely that’s something we should all be interested in and hopeful that is succeeds, right?
Any group trying to connect the club with the fans through dialogue and democratic ideals is something to be cheered. Of course, it’s early days and much is to be done; however, as fans this is our chance to find that involvement with the club that over 90% of us desire.
Sometimes as fans we’re hungry for instant success and short-term gains, but it feels like this could be a long-term project. With negativity engulfing our club from every angle, this genuinely feels like a rare burst of optimism which could potentially have a fantastic outcome for fans who want to be loved by their club and more involved in the direction in which they take.
It’s not just us feeling unloved as fans, but at least people are trying to work towards a positive outcome for our club. That’s something we can cheer - regardless of our current predicament.