I’ve spent too much time on Twitter over the last week, following the hashtag #SAFC, and it’s been a depressing experience. But not, probably, for the reasons you expect.
I’ve watched fans vent of their anger on all sorts of people – from Kristjan Speakman to Grant McCann. Yes, Speakman hasn’t covered himself in glory since the end of January. But his recruitment record since he joined the club – a far better quality of player than we’ve seen since we dropped out of the Premier League – should have earned him a bit more credit. As for Grant McCann, the only mistake he had made was to apply for a job as a football coach at a club that had a vacancy.
One of the pervasive stories that Sunderland fans tell themselves is that there is something mysteriously rotten at the heart of the club. I think that as fans we maybe need to take a long hard look at ourselves.
Yes: it’s fantastic that in League One we can pull in gates of 35,000, and it’s brilliant that we always sell out our away allocation. But the level of vitriol that goes with that, and the level of entitlement, isn’t good for the club or the team.
Let’s face it, the club has not been well run since Ellis Short became the owner, perhaps even before then. Our slide down through the divisions hasn’t happened by accident. Clubs earn their status in the League, and we haven’t earned ours. And it could have been so much worse. I’m sure that Short got a decent tax break for writing off Sunderland’s debts, but if he hadn’t done it would be in the same position as Bury or Darlington right now.
But no: we are a big club that deserves better as if by rights. And with all of that comes behaviour that isn’t good for the team or for the club. The level of anger I read online is completely disproportionate and very damaging. It’s impossible to run an organisation well— any organisation — when every small thing that goes wrong is met with howls of abuse.
It demoralises everyone who works there.
When players are playing without confidence, do we think it helps that they get booed? They are professional sportsman; they want to win; they know they should’ve done better.
We slag off a player like Danny Batth, who comes with a good reputation from his previous clubs, and seems to have joined partly because Lee Johnson had already tried to sign him a couple of times previously. Johnson goes two games after Batth joins, and we seem surprised that his form drops. Maybe trying to pick him up might be a better way to go?
Even the delay about appointing Johnson’s replacement might be down to the way the fans reacted. If Keane hadn’t appeared in the frame, with all the noise from the fans that went with it, and the wall of ill-informed and dismissive remarks about Alex Neale and Grant McCann and the other candidates, we’d probably just have gone ahead and appointed one of them in a few days. Both are more than decent managers at this level.
Sure, firing Johnson when they did, and in the way that they did, was a gamble, and a gamble that has backfired. But maybe we need a bit of a sense of perspective. Nobody has died here. And the gamble hasn’t backfired as catastrophically as some of the noise online would suggest. From the sound on Twitter anyone would think we were in imminent danger of relegation, or even bankruptcy.
Good teams that have a bad run get better again – it’s called the regression to the mean. The return of players like Luke O’Nien and Bailey Wright and, eventually, Nathan Broadhead, will help. The new coach will put his arm around the players and give them a lift. The team still has a great chance of being promoted.
The fans need to give them a break. Or even a hand.