There’s an age gap spanning a decade between me and my younger brother - I’m twenty, and he’s ten. When I was his age, I was heading to the match with my Dad and Granddad with my first ever season ticket clenched in my stubby hand - and for that reason I was ecstatic on a fortnightly basis.
It was the 2007/08 campaign; a season of Kenwyne Jones last-gasp comebacks, poor squads on paper and the captivating ire of Roy Keane. By all accounts, it wasn’t a tremendous season; there were as many highs as there were lows and we only mustered up thirty-nine points come the conclusion in May, but I can confidently say I was enthralled by every minute of it.
Fast forward the aforementioned span of time and my little brother’s offered all the same luxuries I was. A brisk walk to the Stadium from my Dad’s prime car parking spot (which I won’t disclose lest it’s secrecy be compromised), a burger in one hand, a programme in the other and seats in the South West corner as we gaze down at the red-and-white stripes emerging onto our field of play.
He’s offered all that, and he won’t go.
Doesn’t fancy it, he says. Can’t really be bothered. Do I blame him? Of course I don’t.
The lad has no desire to watch the team he’s meant to adore, and that’s because his club give him no reason feel adoration. The only reason my generation and it’s predecessors stick around is because we cling to the vain hope that our connection to Sunderland Association Football Club will be restored one day - one fine distant, yet existent day; when the Short’s, the Bain’s and the Rodwell’s are all long gone.
Therein lies the reason why my little brother understandably has no passion for his team. We’re all still here because we want our emotional connection restored, but if a newer fan can’t get that connection in the first place - what incentive do they have to keep turning up?
Absolutely none is the answer, because they lack the nostalgia we have. They don’t remember Quinn and Phillips - my bro can’t even remember Bent and Gyan - so they have no foundations on which to build a monumental dedication to their local team.
He can remember Moyes and his ragtag band of overpaid losers, though. He got to those games every now and then, watching Dour Dave and best buds Adnan and Joleon slump to loss after loss, going from weakness to weakness.
And now he’s expected to go regularly to a Stadium siphoned of what little atmosphere it had towards the business end of that aforementioned campaign. A stadium filled with perpetual losers, uninterested mercenaries, has-beens and those who just aren’t good enough. A truly awful place to be.
If I was in his shoes - if I was unlucky enough to be a Sunderland fan in 2018 rather than 2008 - I’d lose interest just as quickly. No child is going to be inspired by a hapazard assortment of loanees, or Jason Steele’s lithium solidity, or Lee ‘Legs Have Gone’ Cattermole and his colleague Billy ‘Legs Were Never There’ Jones.
There is nothing remotely likable about Sunderland in its current state. Any young lad or lass wandering up the steps into their seat for the first time will wander out after the games conclusion (or, rather, on sixty-five minutes) with their parent, hop in the car, go home and that’ll be the end of it.
They’ll be no desire to come back, no chatter about when the next game is, who we’re playing next or what the table looks like. There’s no incentive to care.
How do you motivate anyone, let alone a child, to engage with a football team that starts competently before collectively dropping heads and conceding two goals before half time, week in week out?
Ultimately, you don’t, and unless something changes we’re fatalistically destined to lose a generation of fans that have so many superior modes of entertainment vying for their interest.
My brother just got back from footy training wearing his Barcelona shirt because his Arsenal one is in the wash. He hasn’t wore that other top he got for his birthday in a while.