First thing is... I really didn’t want to have to write this.
It pains me to do so as - despite my personal views on particular topics privately and despite my role in bringing the opinion of others into the public realm - well, I wanted to go some way of a season without attempting to debate anything at all with any of our fans.
Perhaps I’m just too tired. Perhaps we all are? The past few years have been absolutely exhausting not just for Sunlun supporters, but across society; arguments rage everywhere 24 hours a day - there are so many reasons to be angry nowadays that it’s difficult to take it all in.
We all wanted the ride to just stop. A chance to catch our breath and try to resume something resembling a normal life, and a significant part of that life as football fans is our football club.
That’s what the elation of the start to our season brought me and many others - a sense of relief we haven’t felt for a long time. Not only a sense that the club is on the right trajectory, a plan is in place and a vision has been implemented but a sign for many that after the suffering of the last couple of years across society - not just regarding the ups and downs of Sunderland AFC - our fortunes had started to change.
Perhaps not personally, as many of our actual day-to-day lives have been made far worse by ongoing problems, but just regarding our club; our escape from the mundane and the stress and worries of everyday life in this increasingly messed up, divided world where everything is an extreme and every issue is a debate.
I’m not currently suffering from the recent run of results in any particular way beyond mild concern, not because I’m blind to what we’ve seen these past few games but because I have an idea in my head that no matter what comes - we will deal with it. We will see it through, face the challenges before us and succeed - maybe not immediately, but in the long term.
What I am suffering from however is the absolute switch from adulation to abuse, from praise to outright condemnation I’ve seen play out in a very short period of time.
To me, Ipswich isn’t the be-all and end-all of the season.
It’s the 16th game of 46, having lost 5, drawn 1 and won 9.
The argument that our season hinges on this result, and a failure to overcome them requires the immediate dismissal of Lee Johnson, is flawed in my opinion as you can put forward the argument that you’re trying to arrest a decline in promotion hopes, but that can be countered with the obvious - and widely accepted opinion in the footballing world - that a sacking will completely write off the season. Then you get the counter again put forward that not sacking Johnson will result in... the same end result.
In my mind, and I’m not sure if I’m unique in this view; If you sack a manager midway through a season you should be preparing the squad for the season after the manager comes in - so each manager ideally needs a full season or even two, and several windows to build a side they actually want that isn’t made up of the previous manager’s “mistakes”.
When I wanted rid of previous managers, the last thing I expected was the incoming manager to launch the side into the league above and to be fair the majority of sackings in the last decade have been about survival, not promotion. Regarding this division - When we sacked Parkinson and everyone expected LJ to take Parkinson’s side and get it into the Champo… Well, that was a little ambitious.
If Lee hadn’t suffered from a chronic lack of fit defenders we may well have made it, but we need to accept that even getting close was something of a miracle.
Many who have already made their minds up won’t of course as that means LJ is capable of being a decent football manager - which is why the fantastic start he had up until a few weeks ago and the outpouring of adulation and love we saw from the fanbase is quickly set aside in any such discussion with those who want him gone.
I often refer to the point that Lee and this squad are victims of their own success; If our recent difficulties were spread out a little more, then people would see a pattern more agreeable - far from perfect, but agreeable nonetheless.
Simply put, we all want Lee to get us up a level, and no rational fan expects the invincibles, yet a lot of the current talk about his tenure being a ‘failure’ is irrational if the expectation was that Lee Johnson would take a team of bairns, youth prospects and a smattering of experienced players and turn them into a side that is impossible to defeat in the strongest overall third tier seen in many years.
In a hypothetical scenario, imagine LJ is sacked now - a few wins from top and already through to the cup quarter finals with a league record superior to most Sunlun managers in recent memory - and more importantly - an enjoyable style of football we haven’t seen in years discarded because… although it’s better than most, it’s just not enough to justify giving him a chance.
His replacement is someone people want, but the replacement fails to succeed with Johnson’s squad - Who do we blame?
It’s like the argument that instead of LJ we should have say... Roy Keane or Gus Poyet, despite neither truly wanting the job and all it entails.
There’s something people are missing about both beyond the fact both are incapable of doing anything they want to do without full control of a club and a lot of time and money. Poyet specifically needs a lot of time by his own admission.
Some interesting stats I keep mulling over are those below:
Keano had us for 100 matches, spent millions and won 42 of the 100.
Worst defeat: 7-1
Poyet had us for 75 matches, spent millions and won 23 of the 75.
Worst defeat: 8-0
Johnson has had us for 62 matches so far, spent absolutely f*ck all and won 33 of the 62. Even mounting a promotion challenge with a side he inherited partway through the written off season he came in for.
Worst defeat: 5-1
There’s always an excuse given that managers we’ve had needed more time, more money and a better setup. Well, many at this level won’t get the money they’d want in this plan, won't get the control they'd need and more importantly... they won’t get the time required, not from the club itself or its owners - but from us.
The argument put forward for most former managers actually - using the glorious benefit of hindsight - is time.
Many of these men alongside their coaching staff, certainly privately if not publicly, have noted our patience as a fanbase and the patience within the club hierarchy was lacking, and our collective expectations were often too high. So what’s changed?
Well, we certainly had better resources to match the level we were at with the majority of managers we discuss quite regularly. We had the ability to sign players in the leagues above we can’t down here. We had Champo or Premier League level players playing in the Champo and Premier League - now, we have League One level players playing in League One.
Of course, if we gave all these managers the teams the others had, then and only then would we know who the superior manager is - unfortunately, time travel seems to be a long way off. What we do know for a fact is that since leaving us many have failed to do anything at all. Anywhere. But the claim comes that many of these people - mainly due to their personalities - will be capable of doing more, in spite of all evidence pointing to the contrary.
Using the two managers mentioned because they both gave us something we needed at the time - a miracle of sorts - Well, I like Gus, and if he’d wanted it I’d have given him 4 or 5 years to do what he insisted needed doing. I like Roy, and if he’d come in I’d have given him years based on the fact he’s Roy Keane.
But that’s the problem isn’t it - is this all about results? Is it all about the football played, or is it about how people feel about Johnson’s personality? About his height of all things, or the way he puts himself across. A list of ridiculous apparent flaws or faults that amazingly have no impact on his successes but that somehow become part of - or all of - the reason for his failures.
It’s certainly not about our style of play we’ve all been complaining about for years - as when these Lads are firing on all cylinders it’s head and shoulders above anything I’ve seen since rare occasions in the Premier League, where we barely survived those seasons.
The results in my opinion just provide a great excuse for people who never accepted Johnson. I should know as I’ve done the same thing to managers I didn’t want for years, in many ways, it’s very much the norm across the footballing world.
That being said, as much as I didn’t like Phil Parkinson I gave him time, a horrific run of terrible results even. Only when it was clear the sort of manager he was; the horrific tactics he employed, that the lack of passion he had for our club and his ridiculous decision making wasn’t going to change… then he needed to go.
Any argument that if Lee Johnson needs time, Parkinson needed time completely avoids things, like... Parky insisted we sign Danny Graham and play the sort of football reserved (presumably) to be watched by those in Limbo awaiting consignment to Hell… or Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, as it stands.
Ultimately I believe it’s a habit and a cycle we can’t free ourselves from.
We’re set on behaving a certain way, and Roker Report itself has not only justified the behaviour but actively taken part in increasing pressure on players, managers and owners for years. Sometimes this has been completely justified, but looking back a lot wasn’t.
It was just easier than facing the reality of our situation at any given time and as a rule, I prefer action to inaction - I prefer anger to apathy.
The fact some people have clicked that something may be wrong in our behaviours as a fanbase (specifically regarding our lack of regard for the psychological strain we as fans can put on people like a 17-year-old loanee, or people simply trying their best with what they have, and then moved to change the way they approach things, like online interaction with players, staff and fans alike) is being taken badly by people who really don’t want to change the way they interact with others online.
Those folk are committed to acting like people who refuse to accept that their actions have any impact or consequences at all, unless it’s a positive in their own minds.
I’m certainly not innocent. I’m rarely politically correct and I’m capable of making the same harsh judgements, the same rash decisions, the same knee jerk responses to something that has angered or irritated me. I’m as capable as any of making the wrong choices, supporting the wrong actions and being stubborn, but… f**k me, Lads and Lasses, I am trying, and I think many people are.
We cannot spend our lives in dispute with one another, we cannot continue to believe that our responsibility as individuals doesn’t extend to the online world, or even to the stands. I want to believe that we are the greatest fanbase on this here planet and I will probably make this claim regardless of my acknowledgement of some of our failures until the day I die.
Lately, for various reasons, I’m struggling to see how we break from the established pattern and actually come together as a united group of people who only want the best for our club, and each other, and stop the rows over why we should continue to treat each other and anyone who momentarily disappoints us like they’ve committed an unforgivable crime.
Here’s hoping we just win at Ipswich, and we can all go back to thinking that no matter what the outside world brings, no matter what sh*t society throws at us, we’re just one big dysfunctional - but happy - Sunlun family.