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Opinion: “Sunderland’s supporters can make the difference between a promotion push & a limp jog”

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“Sunderland fans are brilliant. Hardy, tough, belligerent, kind, compassionate, dedicated and of course a little mad. The lads can’t win this league without us and killing off this negative virus at the root will help all concerned with our club’s welfare - the main beneficiaries being us.”

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

There is a little atmosphere building on the bruising networks of social media that is slowly seeping into the Stadium of Light. It’s creating a small, but not insignificant wave of negativity after what has been a mediocre string of performances and results.

Research has shown that negative attitudes can affect our intelligence and ability to think - according psychologists at the University of Chicago, negativity compromises the effectiveness of an important area of the brain responsible for reasoning, memory and logic.

It’s this type of negativity that seems to be weakening the reasoning and memory of a small section of Sunderland supporters, who seem intent on irritating their way to winning the bizarre metaphorical ‘medal of achievement’ of being blocked by Stewart Donald on twitter.

In terms of negativity affecting a person’s reasoning (this much is obvious from Donald’s Twitter feed, where I simply can’t work out the reason for some of the biting and provocative comments, nor the logic of celebrating a prickly response from our relatively new owner) I don’t get trolls or what the kids who attend my school call ‘keyboard warriors.’

I sit, quite incredulously, totally perplexed at how an individual will plan, write and send something purposefully bothersome that adds nothing new to the debate at Sunderland. It adds nothing positive. It adds nothing thought provoking or original.

It only adds unnecessary tension.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

We can certainly see how negativity can affect memory. Back in April, only nine months ago, there were a myriad of understandably despairing messages on all formats of localised football media. The general feeling was ‘how far will we drop?’.

Other melancholic supporters believed Sunderland were so toxic as an institution that they nervously wondered ‘will anyone invest in us at all?’.

I think Fulwell73’s excellent documentary Sunderland T’il I Die was beautifully reflective of the heart-breaking angst and heavy emotional burden carried by the fans. Most supporters were flat, bored and fearful. It wasn’t good.

Fast forward to Boxing day and there’s 46000 supporters in the Stadium of Light for the game against Bradford City. Thanks to the global reach of Netflix and the influence of Sunderland lifers Fulwell73, Sunderland were back in the news again - and for all the right reasons.

Genuinely brilliant supporters, rightly getting the recognition they deserved, the club moving in the right direction, under an ownership team who were the toast of the city. Our owners were the brave knights who slayed the Texan Dragon.

Four weeks on and a few average, uninspiring performances later and the message boards are increasing in spikey criticism and insidious insinuations.

Over the weekend I’ve seen accusations of fraudulent accounting, suggestions that Donald and Methven have no money and are akin to greasy, snake-oil salesmen with big mouths and empty wallets. Others, happily comparing our owners to Mike Ashley and the days when he would sit with supporters at matches, buying drinks to ingratiate himself to the masses. Other’s not liking suspicious owners from down south, others claiming they’re only in it for the money and to turn a profit.

That was only three weeks after Boxing Day. Perhaps negativity affects the memory of a football fan quicker than the average citizen.

Sunderland AFC

I’m not a Donald fan and I’m not a Donald critic. I’ve no particular loyalty to him or preference to who owns the club, as long as they do so with passion and integrity. So, this isn’t a drumbeat to ensure loyalty to a man we barely know. If he screws us over, I’ll happily slaughter him from every Monkwearmouth pillar to every Ryhope post - and all in-between.

But the man has been here five minutes and inherited an extraordinarily complex mess. Was it ever going to be perfect? I can’t imagine that would have ever been the case.

I know we live in a world where gratification needs to be instant, but the reality of our situation was that our resurrection was always going to be a solid restructuring after years of chaos and financial suicide, rather than a quick flick of Fairy Godmother’s wand.

All of us would have taken 3rd spot in January if we’d been offered it in August last year. But, after a string of great results and fine performances, ensuring we are in the top 3 and some first rate, community based PR successes, perhaps Donald, Jack Ross and the squad have been victims of their own success.

Some like to perpetuate talk of crisis but we’re still 7th on the form table and are unbeaten in five matches. That’s not a crisis, just distorted expectations.

Some - including former players - are blowing the foghorn of doom demanding our owners to splash the cash and just outspend the rest of League One while not acknowledging, until Stewart Donald’s barbed response, that Sunderland already ARE the biggest spenders in the division - by miles.

The same naysayers have forgotten how successful our last strategy of overspending beyond our means played out. They’ve also forgotten, that after that mess, Methven and Donald have been open from the start of their tenure that their goal is to make the club financially self-sufficient by living within our means.

So, trying to catch them out for not spending just seems glib and rather fruitless.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Even this week, Donald copped flack for announcing through local media that Maja has played his last match at Sunderland. The inference being he’s some flash Harry who’d rather run to his pals in the media than tell the fans to their faces. I loved the quick witted and top-notch response from another Sunderland supporter: ‘What? Did you think he was gonna ring us all at home and tell us personally?’.

Look, as an owner who loves to communicate, he’s going to have to take the rough with the smooth. He’s not above criticism, nor is Ross or any of the players and I’m not saying we dance naked around Stonehenge, proclaiming peace and love like a bunch of hippies from the 60’s. No-one at the club is above criticism - including the fans.

But the practise of being negative before any genuine disaster has befell us puts at risk the progress we’ve made and the progression we can make in the months ahead. We all saw last year the frightened and pressurised output of players playing under a constant cloud of misery and hopelessness. It was too heavy a hardship for them to carry and we ALL suffered for it.

Undoubtedly the vast majority of supporters are still completely behind the owners, the manager and the squad. The support this year has been magnificent once again. Most us are still looking up. But negativity is like a tumour. It spreads quickly and you don’t wait until its escalated uncontrollably before you diagnose it and cut it out. You treat it, as quickly as possible.

Let the transfer window play out. Let the season play out. Let the owners and manager do their jobs without undue or unnecessary pressure - heaven knows, leading Sunderland must be pressure enough.

Sunderland fans are brilliant. Hardy, tough, belligerent, kind, compassionate, dedicated and of course a little mad. The lads can’t win this league without us and killing off this negative virus at the root will help all concerned with our club’s welfare - the main beneficiaries being us.

Being positive won’t guarantee we succeed, but I’d bet you my house that being negative will guarantee that we won’t.