Sunderland were a football club that many opposition teams and supporters didn’t give much consideration to during our most recent spell in the Premier League, and our fleeting stay in the Championship. We had the big ground and large fanbase, yet the performances on the pitch put us well behind the other teams in both divisions to a point where we were not a threat.
During the last few years in the top flight I found myself alongside many other Sunderland fans being at the brunt of jokes from mates who followed top six teams. Getting relegated to League One, other than being far from ideal, was something of a reality check. It was expected that we’d be envied by some teams in the division, making us easy targets. Some fans say that we should be unhappy with not winning every week, whilst others say we shouldn’t expect success - it’s been a confusing experience more than anything.
Since we became a League One club I’ve noticed a distinct increase in dislike - and to some extent hatred - from opposition fans. Whether it is the size of the club, our infrastructure or another reason entirely, Sunderland are a team that has become increasingly scrutinised.
To get a better understanding of why that is, I asked friends of mine who support other clubs in the division for their thoughts on Sunderland and the perception of our club amongst fans of fellow League One sides.
Joe Lawes (Oxford) & Jake Dilley (Ipswich)
Why do you think that Sunderland fans take their fair share of stick?
Joe: I think it stems from the fact that a lot of the noise coming from you fans was about walking League One, going straight back up and showing no real respect to a particularly tough league. From an Oxford point of view, Steward Donald and Methven investing in your club probably didn’t help either. Stewart was appreciated by Oxford fans for the time, effort and financial support he’d given to the club over the years whereas Methven had seriously pissed off a significant minority of fans. Judging by recent comments on social media from some Sunderland supporters, you’re starting to find out why.
Jake: I think, as a huge club at League One level, Sunderland fans are easy targets. As an outsider, the back to back relegations (and the documentary for the championship relegation) are things I will never forget and, until you’re at least a competitive championship club again, you’ll generally receive stick for the foreseeable future.
I’d love to see Sunderland out of League One. It’s a Premier League ground with a Premier League fanbase and that’s where the club should be. League One is no place for clubs the size of Sunderland and Ipswich.
Do you think social media makes things worse?
Joe: Absolutely. Although that’s a wider thing to do with giving idiots a louder voice whilst the vast majority of fans who go to matches don’t engage on social media sites (especially Twitter). Sunderland happens to have a larger fanbase, so it makes sense more of the d*ckheads get seen.
Jake: Going on Ipswich’s rivalry with Norwich - the second we concede a goal there are budgie fans commenting on Twitter and Facebook posts mocking our club. I can only assume the same things happen with you and Newcastle.
What sort of things do you think our fans could do differently?
Jake: In every club there are fickle fans who think their team should be doing better - for example before the Champions League final there were Liverpool fans calling for Klopp’s head if they didn’t win it - MADNESS! For sure there will be Sunderland fans who can’t accept being in League One, I’d say especially those in their late teens and 20’s who have experienced a lot of relative success growing up (Championship promotion and a good few years in the Premier League).
The fans who can’t accept Sunderland as a League One club (for now) need to understand it ‘should’ only take one or two years to gain promotion. After the successive relegations they should actually be looking forward to Saturday afternoons where it is more likely they’ll pick up three points, see a few goals and have a good day out.