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OPINION: Sunderland fans must stay united and composed during this crucial period of change

“Unity is not a PR soundbite but an absolute necessity for survival”, writes Craig Davies, as he warns us of the danger borne from turning our admittedly understandable anxiety toward both Stewart Donald and Roker Report.

Brentford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Football support has never been that logical has it? It’s never been a clean cut science based on clear precision and accurate data processing.

Football support is rarely sane, seldom sensible and hardly financially beneficial; it doesn’t often bring peace of mind; it consumes us when we least expect it and disgusts us when it tears the hearts from our chests. Yet, it brings joy. For some, orgasmic pleasure, but it also brings its fair share of panic, anxiety and doom. It’s all of those extreme emotions thrown in a petri dish, and shaken like a cocktail laden with steroids that keeps us so addicted. So intoxicated by the beautiful game.

Football support leaves us anxious and transforms the normally balanced human beings that inhabit its world into needy, possessive partners who over analyse every conversation and obsess over the slightest of issues, turning minor concerns into debilitating mountains almost impossible to overcome.

Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Our metamorphosis into the needy lover, constantly striving in desperation to scrutinise every word and action to understand the possible depths of their potential meaning, is in stark contrast the football clubs themselves. Our football clubs are the pleasant but blissfully unaware companion. A two-dimensional character that plods on predictably - not even recognising the litany of double meanings and pitfalls that our constant worrying are manically creating.

This season, this is our scenario. Imagine Sunderland AFC is, let’s say, the cool Donald and we the supporters are - for the want of a better name - the needy Rodwell.

Our relationship starts off brilliantly, rebounding from our bruising last encounter that has left both parties drained of finance and emotion. Yet so overjoyed are we to find something new, fresh and different that optimism and natural excitement drives the passion, as we tentatively step into the buds of a blossoming relationship.

Instinctively, all goes well and passing time seems immaterial. Suddenly, the needy Rodwell has a thought and without any pre-planning, announces it loudly: ‘’Donald, do you realize that as of tonight, we’ve been together for months and I’m thinking very seriously of the future.’’

And then there is silence. To Rodwell it seems like a deafening silence. Rodwell introspectively panics: “Oh hell! I wonder how much it bothers him that I said that? Maybe he’s been feeling confined by my high expectations; maybe he thinks I’m trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want, or isn’t sure of.”

But all Donald is really thinking is: “What should I do about those pink seats?”


Then Rodwell begins to overly stress and blurts out: “Gosh, I’m panicking now that you’re not ready for this kind of relationship. I’m all confused. Do you want more space or less space? Shall we keep it at distance or get really serious? Are we even going forward? Are either of us really ready for that level of commitment? Do I truly even know you at all?”

Still quiet, all Donald is thinking is: “Hmm… Cattermole’s contract?”

The needy Rodwell becomes confused: “I don’t think you’re serious. You’re just not into this. You’re making false promises and not fulfilling your earlier commitments. I thought I was happy, but it’s all been fake. I don’t want to be in this thing now if this is how its going to go.”

The ponderous Donald thinks carefully on during the frantic drama. “The bogs could do with a touch of paint” he surmises.

Daily Echo

Then from a small, one sided conversation, the relationship is on extremely rocky ground. Anxiety has superceded optimism.

This week, there has been a dramatic rise in the Roker Report inbox of panicky emails and fan letters regarding the genuine commitment of Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven and their authentic ability to make their Sunderland ownership a success.

Albeit, the thumping win against St. Mirren certainly lifted a significant portion of the angst.

Some fans buy into the conspiracy theory peddled by Lee Howey and others before Stewart Donald had barely made a decision as owner, that he and Methven are fly by night, Southern flash boys, with more gob than money. That beyond the slick exterior of promises and high expectations, there is actually very little substance. That it’s a vanity project of relatively small time businessmen, who like the prestige of owning a big club but have little in terms of capital to make any form of progress with it.

Other supporters are genuinely worried about the lack of money spent in the transfer market, considering Methven and Donald both made confident and bold remarks regarding our League One potential.

Thus far, without much hard cash spent, it’s quite understandable that some fans are concerned that perhaps all that glitters is not gold.

With one week to go until the new season kicks off I’m certain - after very successful PR campaigns by both Methven and particularly Donald - most supporters feel they have made a connection. This exciting ground of open and communicative ownership is new for us and many are finding it intoxicating yet, unbalanced. We rejoice at the ease of communication and then panic at what all these messages may or may not mean.

Sunderland supporters are recovering from a draining, emotionally uneven and destructive relationship with our former owner and the tailspin of those after after-effects is dizzying. It is little wonder we are sensitive and panic at the first sign of danger or deception.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

We’ve been burned before, countless times. We’ve been heartbroken on more occasions than we can remember. We’ve been misled, deceived and sinned against. Is it wrong to be a little twitchy? Absolutely not. If we stop asking questions and halt our provocative and inquisitive nature, then we open the door for the spectre of bad ownership to sneak its darkened shadow into our beloved institution. We can’t stop caring and nor should we - ever.

But can it be destructive and counter-productive if we panic at the first sign of difficulty in what is unfamiliar ground for us and our shiny, new owners? Yes.

Is bombarding our new owners with every burden in the footballing universe detrimental to a cohesive and unified charge towards promotion and effective leadership? Yes, of course it is.

Like any needy partner, we can soon suck the life-enjoying oxygen from the once buoyant and convivial lungs of our suppressed and trapped lover. Confined by expectations, depressed by accusations and imprisoned from constant protestations, we can quickly become a force for premature distraction in a season where we simply cannot afford to be divided.

Be concerned? Definitely. Be connected? Without question. Be committed with heart and soul? Undoubtedly. Entwine the very fabric of our footballing DNA to the club and its owners? Of course!

A young Sunderland fan Getty Images

But controlled concern at this stage of pre-season is a must. Composed support in this moment is crucial. We want to relieve the pressure on owners and not will them or coerce them into making foolhardy decisions just to satisfy the baying mob. Unity is not a PR soundbite but an absolute necessity for survival.

There are also a number of supporters who currently feel, that because of Stewart Donald’s refreshing commitment to open dialogue with Sunderland’s fanbase, that the forums which provide that platform cannot possibly be independent. That because Donald appears on Roker Report regularly and engages in our podcast and publications, that we are now void of autonomy and self-governance. We are the gushing Donald Trump and he the authoritative Putin who blackmails us with a pee tape into doing all he demands.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It would be exceedingly foolish of Roker Report NOT to fully engage with the current ownership of the very club we purport to love and support. Sunderland AFC is the reason for our existence and the soul-purpose of our efforts - efforts which incidentally eat most definitely into our work and family lives in a way our employers and family do not always appreciate.

We exist to publicise, to report upon, to write about and speak publicly on all aspects of Sunderland AFC. If we can climb the summit of leadership and maintain a positive working relationship with Sunderland’s owners, therefore opening a new level of access for all Sunderland supporters with a vested interest in the club and who owns it, then we are certainly going to do that. It would be ridiculous and irresponsible not to.

But independent we will always be. If the owners are charlatans, if they are the Del Boy’s of the footballing world, out to con or mislead, you can guarantee we will hammer them from now till the cows come home. If they destroy our trust in them or give us cause to doubt their intentions, you can bet your last pound we will report it in the frankest and most brutal of terms.

If the team aren’t trying, if the tactics are nonsensical, if Jack Ross is out of his depth, damn right we will shout it from the highest rooftops.

If we are not independent, if we do not represent the supporters, if we cannot be true to ourselves, then we should be chased out of the city and rightly so. Roker Report was forged on the terraces of Roker Park and borne from the unified body of the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland we have always been, regardless of owner. Independent we will always remain.

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