Yesterday evening, as I drove home from work over the Monkwearmouth bridge, I sat open-mouthed as I heard Charlie Methven’s interview with BBC Newcastle in which he spoke bluntly about his thoughts on pubs that illegally stream live games, and the fans that choose to watch them instead of paying the price of a match ticket.
Methven - a PR guru by trade - didn’t mince his words as he talked honestly about his thoughts on a topic which has lingered in the background ever since Niall Quinn was Chairman. Quinn himself famously targeted the people that opted to watch illegal streams of games, going as far as to say that he despised them.
Much of what the Oxford-supporting club Director believes in regarding this issue is fair game - in short, he’s not happy that pubs and bars in the city centre brazenly publicise and then illegally stream live games, particularly when the clientele they’re hoping to attract are, by proxy, also Sunderland AFC’s ‘customers’.
But his tone and choice of language in particular has caused a stir on social media amongst supporters who, like myself, have had their feather’s ruffled by Methven’s words.
In the chat with BBC Newcastle, Methven said:
If you’re a fanatic of your football club and you decide, actually what you’re going to do is you’re going to spend your money on a few pints of lager and watch an illegal stream of the match rather than contributing that money to trying to help your club to be the best it probably can, you’re not a fan, you’re a parasite.
When you average them out, it can be about £12 per ticket. I don’t buy that there are people who are poor enough to not be able to afford that but are rich enough to be able to afford to go to pubs and drink in there.
There’s certainly a line of thought that the supporters who instead choose to watch games in pubs instead of paying the price of a match ticket aren’t doing their bit for the club. In theory that is true - they’ve made a conscious decision to spend their money on beer or whatever else instead of paying the price of a ticket, and as such the club sees none of it.
That’s not really the point though, in my eyes. What people choose to spend their money on is their choice, and for a recently-appointed club director to then alienate them with his comments is just poor form.
I’m not really sure what the motive behind the attack was - to create debate? He’s certainly done that. Was it to shame people into going? Was he hoping for people to round on the supporters? I guess that remains to be seen.
Surely the goal should be to get these people eventually back involved with the club? Using a word like ‘parasite’ to describe them won’t curry Methven or the club any favours.
I got chatting to an old friend yesterday evening, funnily enough in a pub. Now in his late 50s, he was a season ticket holder with the club stretching back to the Roker Park days but, after our relegation to the Championship, he and the other people he attended games with decided that enough was enough, and they called it a day. For the last two years they’ve instead opted to head out on a Saturday to watch the game in the pub with a few beers - again, I mightn’t agree but that is their choice, and my opinion is that how they spend their disposable income is entirely up to them and they shouldn’t be judged for it.
With the radio interview still stirring in my mind, I took the opportunity to ask him what he thought of Methven’s comments about fans like them, and he - like me - was taken aback. It was only a brief conversation, but coming away from it I couldn’t help but feel that fans like Alan, my mate, are the ones the club are still yet to convince - the ones that are red and white through and through, but have fallen into other habits on a match-day after suffering from years of abuse from the club they love.
And that’s it - the supporters that stay away from games all have their own reasons for doing so, and whether you disagree with what they choose to do in their own time with their own money is a completely separate matter.
I completely agree that what the pubs are doing is not only illegal, but wrong, but to then go after the people that frequent them on a match day just doesn’t sit right with me.
One of the long-term aims that the club have should be to slowly but surely convince the fans that have consciously decided to stop attending games since we were in the Premier League to come back - and a club Director alienating a section of those people with his words just seems misjudged, in my opinion.