A couple of weeks ago - whilst waiting for the coach to take us to the match - we grabbed a coffee in the local Greggs, and in walked a bloke who knew one of our group. He shouted over “I know where you lot are going, you must be mad!”
I’m sure that most of us have had the same accusation levelled at us on countless occasions over the last few years - especially as we’ve had our patience tested more than perhaps any other fanbase by those running the club and the players on the pitch.
People go for their own different reasons, whether that is for family, friends, beer, love of the club or just out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Some people even go for the football. But does this make anyone that attends Sunderland games mad?
There was madness in abundance the other week after the equaliser at Walsall - crazy scenes, mental behaviour as fans spilled onto the pitch in an outpouring and expression of pure joy. Mad behaviour, yes, but are these nutters actually mad?
Some of them clearly are but not in the way that the bloke in Greggs meant. They were enjoying themselves and they got pelters off some very mad types on social media, people who clearly have no idea how to live.
What’s the alternative to going to the match? Shopping at the Metro Centre? Popping to B&Q and doing some DIY? That’s a criminal waste of a weekend and utterly mental behaviour, but if someone asked what you did at the weekend and you said, “I went shopping to the Metrocentre with our lass” the natural reaction would be “Urgh” not “are you mad?”.
So, why are we considered mad to have continued to go to the match through the dark days? Well, the sh*tty performance of the team is a valid reason - plenty just gave up. But since Charlie Methven arrived at the club, he’s set supporters the challenge of coming back.
He’s stated on many occasions that the club has, in the past, had the p*ss taken out of it.
The free tickets, the watching it in the pub and doing it the easy way - the morals of the former attenders have been questioned, but never their sanity.
I think there is some validity in the idea that people have been influenced to think that the club is valueless, and therefore match-goers were somehow mad for continuing when there was seemingly no hope. When speaking to people who are not necessarily football fans and you explain that you are a match-going Sunderland supporter there is often surprise, surprise that this still actually happens.
I wonder if that bloke in Greggs has just lost the buzz, lost interest or whether he has been conditioned to think, as Methven said, that “people just took the p*ss out of Sunderland”.
Whether that is in the expectation of getting free tickets or expecting to be able to watch it in the pub, many have been conditioned to thinking that it was the match goers who were somehow ‘mad’.
The fortunes of football clubs tend to (like the fortunes in our lives) be cyclical - we have good times and we have tough times. To appreciate the good you have to have experience the bad. So if that fella in Greggs comes back in the future, when times are good will he appreciate it as he should? I hope so.
So, how can attitudes change? Winning will help, but making the club a valued institution again, as Methven said in his interview will also seriously help to change attitudes just as much.
Seeing celebrations like at Walsall the other week demonstrates again what it means to so many. The enthusiasm from those who have seen the club through the bad times buying tickets for others for Boxing Day will also add value to the institution - maybe people will understand that we aren’t mad after all.
Supporting a football club is like reading a book or watching a film, seeing a story with positive and negative scenes unfolding, the difference is that it will take this story a lifetime to conclude for those who have the time, the will and the inclination to see it through.
Are they mad for wanting to read every page - every chapter of that story – or are they mad for being desperate to see every shitty scene of that film?
I don’t think so, I think they are completely sane as they never lose sight of the plot. So, I personally think that it’s the bloke in Greggs who is the mad one - he is missing out on a whole lot of fun in what is the greatest story of our lives.