For the vast majority of us our football club is what we turn to for solace, our vice if you prefer. Much like a family member, you treat it with respect and love, even when it tests your patience. You feel a duty to support it, nurture it and care for it - even when the evidence suggests you absolutely shouldn’t.
When you give something so much time, commitment and trust to something and it appears vastly different to the club you fell in love with, naturally you search for answers of just how it ended up this way. Sadly, it only seems to conjure up more questions. Getting behind Sunderland right now is a tough challenge for even the most hardened supporter.
With fans and owners seemingly at each others throats - both frantically searching for answers to resolve the chronic underachievement of a (former) footballing giant - Sunderland AFC continues to fall into a coma whilst its loved ones watch on, seemingly helpless.
Something hasn’t been right with this football club for a long, long time, with fingers of blame wagged in so many different directions that some of us may need a compass.
The fans have, unfairly, shouldered some of that blame.
This week, not for the first time in recent history, one of Sunderland players allegedly told a fan to “f**k off” after the Gillingham game. Yes, that’s right, one of the brave souls who travelled the length of the country to watch a p*ss poor performance in a FA Cup first round replay to support such rubbish was greeted with that. Yet the media seemed to not notice. The narrative that it’s solely the fans fault is in full swing, it seems.
Is it our fault that those players who have been supported superbly are unable to muster a single shot on goal in 120 minutes? Is it the owner’s fault that some players can’t seem to hack the pressure of being at a club the size of Sunderland? Or is it the fault of the eleven players who take the pitch to embarrass us weekly?
I’m sure you can see where I’m going here.
For a failure of this magnitude in a club so big, there’s never only one person to blame.
However, the amount of criticism that seems to be aimed at the fans is becoming a little concerning. The allegations of abuse from ‘Sunderland fans’ to our owner on social media, the focus on the lack of fans at certain games and players telling fans to “f**k off” doesn’t exactly show our fans in a fair light at all, and it’s becoming a little tiresome.
And why is it so acceptable that players who have underachieved for nigh on four years escape so much of the blame?
Many of us thought it was the failings of Jack Ross, but the sacking of our former Scottish manager seems to have only hindered us, with the players turning out even more turgid performances than before.
Whilst I do agree that some of our players simply lack the quality needed to exceed at even this level, I can not accept that this team should be beaten heavily by teams in a division below us, or the U21s side of a decent Premier League team.
We have some wonderful characters in our ranks. The likes of Luke O’Nien, George Dobson and Jordan Willis have been some of the players that have shown that they are ready for the challenge of progressing this football club, and have seemed to genuinely revel in playing for such a large and passionate fanbase. For the majority of the others I can accept the lack of ability, but the lack of desire is not tolerable.
To pin the failings of our first team on sections of the fanbase because we believe the players should be doing better than losing to Gillingham, Wycombe, Scunthorpe, children from Leicester and Shrewsbury Town is too easy a get out clause for far too many of our first team and the media alike. Whilst Charlie Methven searches for the parasites in the fanbase, and we in turn search for the parasites in the boardroom, maybe we are both missing the glaringly obvious, in that the answers are right in front of our eyes.
Phil Parkinson may be telling us they are “rolling their sleeves up” and having a “proper go”, but Sunderland fans are not stupid, and not having a shot on target in 120 minutes of football is not what any fan of any club calls “having a proper go”.
For the many people who blame our supporters for being to expectant, maybe it’s time you looked into our football club a little further. Because if there was ever ‘an organism living inside of a species, or it’s host, benefiting by deriving its nutrients at others expense’ right now, it’s those who cross the white line at 3pm on a weekend.
The fans aren’t the problem at Sunderland - it’s the players. To any of them reading this: get your heads together and sort this mess out. Our club is relying on you.