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Fan Letters: Shout out to the exiles; thousands of Sunderland fans in a self-imposed stay-away

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In today’s edition of Fan Letters we hear from Roker Report reader Lee Brown, who passionately explains his reasons for why he won’t attend another game at the Stadium of Light until Ellis Short has gone.

Sunderland v Burnley - Premier League - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

When sitting and reading Tom Atkinson’s excellent ‘An Exile Returned’ on the state of our club, I found myself nodding in agreement with virtually every word.

It got me thinking... here we have the views of someone exiled because he’s living overseas - has anyone with a self-imposed exile explained how they feel this season?

I was a proud season ticket holder for 11 years, and frequent visitor for many years before that, until I decided not to renew for the 2017-18 season.

I’ve been given my fair share of stick from mates who retained their season tickets for ‘deserting’ the club when we were relegated, but I had made my mind up long before, that David Moyes’s ill-fated reign would be my last as a season ticket holder, whether we stayed up, won a trophy or got relegated - and until Ellis Short is no longer the owner.

We’d scraped survival year on year, each new manager performing a seemingly bigger miracle than the one before him and yet nothing ever changed. No lessons were ever learned, the ‘dead wood’ remained (and some still do) at the club season after season, and more players with inflated egos and the air of ‘doing us a favour’ by playing for us about them continued to be signed.

I could go on, but we’re all already aware of the problems at the club.

The disconnect between club and fans which Tom references in his piece has been growing increasingly by the year. It’s been death by a thousand cuts for many of us, and as I read his article I felt a deep sympathy with him, imagining how deflated he must have been when reality hit him with just how bad it actually is.

I made the choice not to renew in the summer because I believed that in continuing to do so, I was part of the problem. If we all continue to turn up at the SoL every fortnight, I reasoned, to watch the same lacklustre, disheartening and at times downright embarrassing performances, nothing will ever change.

Sunderland Owner Ellis Short Visits Team Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I voted with my feet like thousands of others. If truth be told I was not much use to the team anyway. I was there in body but not in spirit. One of those fans who, as Tom Atkinson put it succinctly, has been ‘beaten by years of disappointment and despondency’.

A ‘proper’ fan would keep going my mates would say. Well, for those Sunderland fans that believe this, let me tell you, I may not be a season ticket holder, but I am STILL and always will be a Sunderland fan.

The club, my club, our club, is still a huge part of my life, still accounts for my mood more than it should, still creeps into my conversations numerous times a day and still causes me as much pain and occasional elation as it always has.

Match days now are no more or less disheartening and frustrating than they were before. I miss the pre-game banter and pints with my friends. I miss the mini-bus turning up at 2.40 to whisk us down Chester Road and across the bridge. I miss my pie and overpriced Yorkie that I always bought five minutes before kick-off. I miss the way the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as soon as the pitch comes in to view walking up the ramp – every time, no matter how many times I have seen it before. I miss the post-game ranting and raving back at the pub and the ensuing camaraderie which comes back once we’d got it out of our system.

I’m no more use to my better half on Saturdays now than I was when I was at the stadium. I’m either watching Soccer Saturday, dreading the inevitable ‘there’s been a goal at the Stadium of Light’, or if she’s managed to coax me out somewhere, I’m on my phone checking the stats and action areas every two minutes. I’m still in the same foul mood come 5pm, I’m still straight on the phone to my Dad to ask if he’s seen the result – “yes son, not looking good is it”, “no it’s not Dad” - as the brief conversation invariably goes.

The pink seats, the dreaded pink seats, look even more embarrassing now when I see them on TV than they did when I was sat in the West Stand opposite them. In many ways, they’ve become almost the symbol of our club. Washed out, weary and looking like they’ve given up.

I question every week whether I made the right decision not to renew, and I believe I did. I couldn’t continue to put my hard earned into the club while Ellis Short is the owner. I don’t think he is a bad man, I think he’s a very shrewd and intelligent businessman who just happens to have made a catalogue of un-shrewd and un-intelligent decisions as the owner of our beloved club. Only Sunderland could find such a billionaire.

I respect the fans who have continued to go every week. “This is not forever”, I tell myself, “just a temporary hiatus”.

As soon as Ellis Short is gone, I will be back with the rest of you.

I just pray that we’re not playing in the third tier when I am.

Lee Brown