I don’t think that I need to sit here and preach to the people reading this about the rights and wrongs of how someone should or shouldn’t support the club that they follow, or in the case of almost everyone reading this: Sunderland. At the end of the day we all pay our ticket money and have the right to say and think whatever we like - within the boundaries of the law and decency, of course.
But there’s been something bubbling within me recently that I am in all honesty just uncomfortable with, and I thought it was best I put pen to paper (well, finger to keyboard...) in order to get it off my chest.
I’ve been a season ticket/card holder at Sunderland for over twenty years now, and through all the highs and (many) lows over that time there has been one thing that, irrespective of all the other bullsh*t that comes with football and the circus that surrounds it, has been a constant at this club - the passionate, almost tribal support of the fans.
It can be genuinely breath-taking when the ball is rolling and we have something to cheer about. The Stadium of Light, unlike most modern arenas, has the acoustics of your typical old-style football ground, and the stands are relatively close to the pitch.
The impact of a supportive crowd can be the difference between a team staying up and going down - you only have to look back as far as Sam Allardyce’s final home game in charge against Everton in 2016, when we all undoubtedly, 100% behind the team and the manager, for an example of how the fans can play their part in achieving success.
The fact of the matter though is that we’ve had next to nothing to cheer about for far too long now, and as a result we all seem to be pulling in different directions.
I think I can say with certainty that the vast majority of Sunderland supporters are behind Chris Coleman. We can believe in him and what he’s capable of achieving here, and we know and recognise that this man is our best chance of not only staying up this year but then taking us forward even further beyond that.
That aside, though, it feels as though we are not all quite on the same page.
I won’t name names but it won’t take you long to speculate and guess on which players have suddenly disappeared from contention since Coleman arrived. This won’t have been a coincidence, nor would it be a shock to see a number of these characters leave in the coming weeks, thus removing the ‘bad eggs’ from the dressing room.
I think that it’s important to recognise what Chris Coleman said when he first arrived when talking about shirkers, and only wanting to work with players that are committed.
In particular, I feel as though certain players are given too much of a hard time.
I’ve been guilty of this myself over recent months. I’m not particularly fond of Lee Cattermole or John O’Shea with respect to their playing abilities, but clearly the manager sees them as useful in this fight and we have to back his decision to place faith in the likes of those two and others, like Darron Gibson and Adam Matthews. Fair enough - let’s hope they continue to positively contribute as the months go on.
But whether or not we feel a player is good enough isn’t particularly relevant at this stage - it’s their commitment to the short-term goal of staying in the Championship that is most important.
Coleman has got what he’s got, and now it’s about getting the best out of them and ensuring that we pick up the results we need in order to stave off another relegation.
When talking about committed players that are perhaps limited in their ability, I am of course referring to the likes of George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch and Donald Love, men that have featured heavily in the first team since the manager first arrived.
Nobody is denying that these lads would perhaps benefit more from being given limited exposure, but the fact is that we have so few options that they need to play. And in fairness to them, they’ve clearly shown commitment both on the training pitch and in matches - the very least we expect of anyone that represents our football club.
I’ve been criticised on social media by some for leaping to the defence of Honeyman in particular, and people are entitled to continue to do so of course, but it won’t deter me from maintaining my stance on how I feel about him or his usefulness in this fight.
What Honeyman might lack in natural ability or quality, he more than makes up for with determination and heart. Is that going to be enough come the end of the season? Maybe not. But the problem on the pitch for so long at Sunderland has been that we’ve been landed in compromising situations where our future as a club has been placed in the hands of players that couldn’t care less about whether we are relegated or not.
It’s not like serious investment in the playing squad appears to be forthcoming, so we just have to make do with the limited resources that we’ve got. At least when you put George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch and Donald Love out on the pitch every week you’re getting their absolute best effort - and if that’s not good enough, well, it’s not good enough.
Whether the likes of George Honeyman should remain as part of our first team squad beyond this season is something we need to worry about down the line. But for now, we need characters - young and old - like Honeyman if we are going to stand any chance of pulling away from this mess.
What I do know is that we, the supporters, have just as big a part to play in all of this as the players do.
I’m not talking about ‘happy-clapping’ and accepting sh*te, I’m talking about recognising that this manager has likely got a plan in mind and has already worked out which of the players he’s got are up for the battle.
We need to get behind them and Coleman as they strive towards getting us out of this mess, whether we are particularly happy with their personal ability or not.
Then, once our path appears a little clearer, we can then begin to imagine life without them, when the manager can then look to build on the foundations he’s already put in place.