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Put the Flags Out! “Sunderland AFC’s reengagement with the fans is great to see”

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The Stadium of Light will look a bit different tomorrow, and with a dialogue meeting to come, perhaps we can hope that a more positive relationship is developing between the club and its loyal supporters.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

On Friday afternoon, as my family and I prepared to go into Wales’ 18-day “firebreak” lockdown, I received some welcome news: Sunderland AFC will be decorating the Stadium of Light with supporters’ flags and banners ahead of the important fixture against Portsmouth this weekend.

The large “surfer” flags, purchased for the Roker End by fans back in 2019, will be laid out across the seats, and the Branch Liaison Committee (BLC) has confirmed that Supporter Branch flags have been in quarantine since their delivery to the Stadium of Light earlier this week.

The display of our flags, combined with the new pre-match and half-time shows and the commentary from Frankie Francis and Danny Collins, will hopefully bring a little more colour to an empty ground, demonstrate to players that the supporters are still there watching, and bring a connection between Sunderland fans and the pictures on the live stream we’re paying a tenner-a-pop to watch.

Sunderland v Carlisle United: EFL Trophy Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This development comes after news, which was announced to the online open meeting of the Red & White Army (RAWA) members on Thursday night, that the first formal structured dialogue meeting between fan groups and the club hierarchy for a year - will take place within the next couple of weeks.

The club has not agreed to such dialogue since Charlie Methven’s incredibly uneducated comments caused a breakdown in relations last November in the wake of the collapse of the FPP takeover and the sacking of Jack Ross as manager.

The meeting will most likely be with CEO Jim Rodwell, as the club is yet to appoint a Chairperson to succeed majority shareholder Stewart Donald who resigned in the summer following a disastrously acrimonious “unstructured” and un-minuted meeting with fan groups back in July, and will be the first of a scheduled three meetings this season.

None of this is likely to change the position of the vast majority of fans regarding their desire to see Donald, Sartori & Methven’s time as owners of the club come to a swift and satisfactory end. Jim Rodwell’s statement on the club’s podcast on Friday that the club is in a period of exclusivity with a potential owner who has shown proof of funds will, for many, be a welcome development, but it doesn’t really move the story on any further as no details have been revealed and it appears uncertainty around coronavirus is behind ongoing delays in the process.

Demands for an update on the status of reported takeover talks was top of many members’ agendas at Thursday’s meeting, and anger at the £20m loan to the trio’s Madrox company that was written off by the club was still palpable from those in attendance.

Mistrust of Madrox’s motives and scepticism regarding takeover talk will be hard to dispel, even as frosty relations between the fans groups and those running the club day-to-day, as well as the performances of both the men’s and women's sides on the pitch, are seeing a welcome upturn.

In my role as Roker Report’s RAWA co-opted rep, I was pleased to be able to inform the meeting that I’d had a friendly and constructive conversation with Chris Waters, the Supporter Liaison Officer, earlier this week regarding the issue of fans still being locked out of Sunderland AFC Ladies matches despite our north east rivals being capable of opening their doors, and we expect to hear back from the club next week.

Photo: Chris Fryatt

A range of other issues were raised by the 80-plus fans on the Zoom call, including the loss of academy talent, the club’s positions on the various schemes being floated to bail-out EFL club and the way the club shop operates under covid-19 restrictions as the crucial Christmas period approaches.

These questions will be collated and grouped together, and the will form the basis of the fan groups’ questions to the club during the structured dialogue meeting. It’s vitally important that the club give clear and accurate answers and continue to listen to our ideas and concerns.

The way in which the club engages and motivates its fanbase - it’s customers and biggest champions - has never been more important than it is now as the whole of the football league struggles to survive the crisis that threatens to destroy football clubs across the UK.