Back in the FanZone this week I got talking again with Sunderland supporters about how they felt things were going. Here I report their voices, their feelings, and their hopes.
Yes, hope - there’s a lot of it about, and this was even before the first half demolition of Scunthorpe United on Sunday afternoon at the Stadium of Light.
One such remark I heard recently was:
We’ve got hope that we might actually do something. The owners are prepared to talk with the fans. They mingle with the fans, they don’t just wait for them to come over - they mingle and everyone is made feel welcome.
The contrast with last season could not be clearer, and that also included the experience of the FanZone:
In the FanZone there was a time when you came here and they asked you whether you had a season ticket or a match day ticket – they would say you cannot come into the FanZone. The FanZone is for supposed to be for all the fans, for everybody.
Now they’ve got the fans back on side.
But I also delved a little deeper, because behind these voices lies an insightfulness about the club, the team, the owners and the manager. People see real deep change - and they love it.
First of all the scale of change – everyone thought that was needed. One comment that also reflected sentiments voiced at the Charlton game:
A full clear out from top to bottom, that’s what we needed. That’s what the fans wanted and that’s what the fans have got. We’ve got the buzz back.
Others associated the change with a different culture in the club:
I like the complete change and know we’re heading in the right direction. We are getting fresh people in who are passionate about the club. It’s not about the money; it’s about getting the club back to where it belongs.
More on this theme - this time about fans, their children and families and what it means to taste success:
It’s a totally different atmosphere to last season; it’s much more family orientated. People are bringing their kids more. Last year it was defeated after defeat after defeat and it was upsetting for the kids because they didn’t understand our passion for the club.
And there were also good memories of the past that they see coming back today:
Now it reminds me of Roker Park. It wasn’t commercialized then - you went for a game of football. Last year it was like business; now it’s a proper family-oriented atmosphere.
These views are intriguing because they pose an interesting challenge for the owners. On the one hand, Stewart and Charlie have made it absolutely clear that they have to run a viable business to replace the broken Ellis Short model. On the other hand, the fans saying that they do not want the Club to feel like a business.
So is it the case of passionate football in the foreground and a sustainable business in the background?
We soon moved on to talk about the thing they had come to see - the football. Of course, everyone was urging the new positivity to extend onto the pitch:
The next thing is to do it on the pitch. Now have some young ones who want to play for the club. We needed to get rid of the big earners, but Cattermole had a good game the other night and perhaps he could be positive influence on some of the young ones.
And they are loving the style of play:
I like the attacking football. Against Sheffield Wednesday the play was lovely, but we lacked it in the final third. Even when went they went behind, they picked themselves up unlike in the past when their heads would have a gone down.
Another remarked about the relationship between style and teamwork - key factors for the club if we are to find success moving forward:
I like the style of play; they are passing and getting the ball forward. We have less quality at an individual level than in recent years, but we’re a much better team.
And an interesting relationship between optimism and resilience, because we are going to need this when we hit a bump, which is almost inevitable:
There’s a new atmosphere inside the ground; people are not so fearful about getting beat because we are optimistic. Last season we came here and we’d feel beaten before we started.
And it came back to leadership and support for the manager, his adaptability and intelligence:
Jack’s style of play is spot-on; he’s prepared to change things; and is not afraid to do that in the case for example of the Charlton game. As soon as he sees something that needs changing he does it; he doesn’t wait to the 60th or 70th minute.
And finally, the emerging underlying confidence:
We are a big club now in League One and everybody wants to beat us, but we have the infrastructure and we’ve got big players coming back and that will make a difference.
This was my second time in the FanZone talking with lifelong Sunderland supporters. Their voices are clear and consistent – they are falling in love with their Club again. But, like all things in the world of love, it won’t always be plain sailing. I think they know that too.