Dear Roker Report,
I always maintained as long as I could afford a season ticket I would always renew. I have a great seat surrounded by good people. Simply going to the match with my pals and couple of pints afterwards and sometimes before make the long winter bearable and are a cornerstone of a social life.
Whilst the division we play in matters in respect of the quality of fare on offer, it wasn’t a deal breaker to me as to whether I attend the SOL or not. If you support Sunderland and can afford to attend the match, you go. It’s as uncomplicated as that!
Every chairman since I have attended, from 1969, has treated our huge support as turnstile fodder. I don’t believe Mr Donald is any different. He still has to surpass when Mr Tom Cowie was chair; he went out in public bemoaning our support & wishing he had Newcastle’s fans. Prior to this he set about chopping the grand old Roker End into something York City would take as shabby because he would not pay the maintenance bills. Worryingly, this lot have an even bigger playground to mess with.
Various SAFC boards have always took our disproportionate numbers attending games, relative to huge disappointments and heartbreak many seasons, for granted - as a given!
All the while, they have overseen mismanagement, penny pinching and total lack of any mid/long term planning or vision to bring success and true consistent glory days to Sunderland AFC. We, yes that’s we as a collective, should be potentially one of the biggest names in world football given our tradition, former success, heritage and fantastic support base. But no. Those in charge just move on to the next project or ego trip.
As a fan, you know when they talk of the club getting it right next season, you so want believe . However high your heart sings you steel yourself ready for the disappointment that usually follows.You know the savvy marketing department play on the passion, loyalty of the supporters , blah, blah whilst all time looking at the balance sheet. Which is fair enough as its a business and these are business people. To them it’s a product - a brand to sell. You would be very naive to think they see SAFC through the same eyes as the supporters.
We know this, yet we buy into this every year - in many cases working overtime, making sacrifices, shaving money off the household budget to pay for it all, as season after season you turn up.
Is it habit? Is it because you are proud of where are from and this is SAFC, the flagship institution to rally behind? Is playing your part to drive the club forward to the success it and you deserve? Is it a sense of belonging that you and your closest friends and family feel part of a larger community called Sunderland AFC?
It’s all those things and many more.
Only by going to the match to watch your team, representing our area, our heritage, our town, our Sunderland that brings that together. It’s the baton that’s passed from generation to generation since 1879. It’s not just about going to watch “the football”.
That’s why the current owners Q&A about 2020-21 season ticket renewals answers highlight the significant gap between fan base and boardroom is now wider than ever before. To be fobbed off with a screening pass that is worth only £110 per season for every game home and away, & then only covers season ticket holders for home games. This leads to a true value of only £55, and yet they are expecting you to pay the same price of actually attending the games....
This has the words “Mug”, “Contempt” and “Fools” written all over it, but I bet the PR department don’t issue those words as the tag line when trying to sell it. Perhaps they don’t care to even try to sell it, as they expect 24,000 of us season ticket holders to willingly role up again and again, because we do and because it’s ‘our’ club.
My seat is the cheapest adult season ticket in the house because, it’s what I can afford. And as said at the beginning, I like my seat and all that goes with it. Now, more than ever, I feel totally ripped off.
What about those of you who pay far more than me or have multiple season tickets at the same address, yet get exactly the same offering as I, with no additional extras? Why would anybody sign up to that?
If, in the unlikely event this crisis is sorted in the next 12 months, or crowds will be allowed to attend matches, what will post Covid 19 football spectating be like?
If capacity is reduced because of social distancing, will you have the same seat? Will you be seated with same people, or seated with anyone? How will refusing to sit socially distant be punished? What will the atmosphere be like at future games, with a spread out crowd? And will the fear of gathering in concourses, etc, heighten the fear and the risk of spreading the disease?
As for pre and post-match pints... well, many pubs can not survive without a full bar to boost their takings. How will this be possible and how will social distancing be maintained in pubs without losing the whole social and community aspect of being in a pub ? So that’s not the same.
Supporters buses may have reduced capacities, so will they charge more to make up for the enforced empty seats?
Economically, and as an experience, going to the match will not be the same as pre-Covid 19, especially if it’s allowed before an antidote is found. So, if the alternative is a totally overpriced screening pass, for the foreseeable I, for the first time ever want out.
So with massively heavy heart I feel I can not go through with my season ticket renewal for 2020-21, and it feels like going through a series a worst possible life events all at once.
It’s has took me days to get my thoughts written down. My heart is broken at making a decision my head knows is right.
When Charlie M said “the piss taking party stops” in 2018, unfortunately that did not extend to the fans. We are still expected to boogie along to the ticket office with our hard earned cash with nothing but an expensive video shop rental membership card in return.
No thanks! I’ve had enough of my support been treated as a cash cow to enable rich men to get richer and to walk away from a mess of their own ego and creation without any accountability to those who have supported the club through some thick, and lot of thin.
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for taking the time to write this letter, Mark, your words will resonate with many and your passion for our club is true. Sunderland fans have definitely been taken for a ride by successive owners over the last decade, and although we instinctively want to help our club survive at its lowest point in history, you’ve expressed so well the build-up of frustrations and pressures that have made many others take the same decision as you and cancel their Season Cards. People are being asked to take a leap of faith by people they, quite rightly, have no faith in. The way the club has handled this whole situation has been a lesson in bad PR. We can only hope that a way out of both the medical and economic crisis of covid-19, and the financial crisis that Sunderland and the rest of League 1 face before 2020-21 can start, will be found.