League One. It is a division which Sunderland are trying their hardest not to get out of for the second consecutive season. The last three matches have seen just two points added to our tally and, with teams around us losing on Saturday, the chance to finally break into the top two.
However, even before this stuttering fun of form, one thing had become abundantly clear. To be fair, this had become clear during last season. It is this idea that a lot of Sunderland fans absolutely cherish having a scapegoat, one player to hurl abuse at relentlessly.
In 2018-19, the man who people loved to hate the most was our club captain George Honeyman. A local lad, who worked his socks off every time he stepped onto the pitch and celebrated every goal like a proper lads fan.
He was far from our worst player last season, even during the end of season decline. Yet after each performance, the abuse directed at Honeyman was dreadful. He just couldn’t do anything right in the eyes of a lot of fans. When he departed for Hull City last summer, I was quietly very pleased for him. He had a chance to start a fresh at a team whose fans might not despise everything he did.
This season, the scapegoat position needed to be filled once again. At first, it seemed like Denver Hume would be shouldered with this mantle. His first full season in first team football and every slightly loose pass or laboured touch was met with cries of frustration and anger. Fortunately for Hume, someone else in the side seems to be taking the brunt of the flack from supporters.
George Dobson has improved in recent games, but this hasn’t stopped fans from jumping down his throat. He works hard and gets stuck in as much as he can - for me, he’s very similar to George Honeyman. Maybe it’s a George thing? Or perhaps its hard-working midfield players which some fans don’t like. I guess these people have forgotten about the horrible days of Didier Ndong and Jack Rodwell in the middle of the park.
To make this clear, I’m not saying any of the three players mentioned are completely blameless. They have all had poor showings but, let’s be honest, they are three players who have always shown they want to play for Sunderland - far more than many of their predecessors.
Some sections of Sunderland fanbase thrive on singling out one player to channel negativity towards. It’s not good when one player, especially a young player as it usually is, is given so much abuse. If it gets to the point where Dobson and Hume want to follow in the footsteps of George Honeyman, out of the club for an easier ride, I can’t say I’d blame them for wanting to go.
The negativity can be bad in the stands but social media, like it is for a lot of negativity in the modern day, magnifies the worst attitudes from those supporters who aim waves of anger at one or two players. Strangely, this often comes when the players in question have performed better than their team mates. I just don’t get it.