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Why Sunderland AFC are at real risk of losing a generation of fans

It’s been tough to watch Sunderland in recent years, but could the last fortnight genuinely turn fans away from the SoL?

Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

Things have been dire for Sunderland for a large part of my lifetime.

I was too young for the Reidy days, and other than the promotion season of 2006/7 and a few big wins against Newcastle and top-six sides, there’s been nothing much to celebrate.

What perhaps kept me coming to SAFC was a feeling of having something special with my dad, and also Premier League football (although that was rarely something to get excited about).

The thought of supporting any other club, no matter how rough things got, seemed unusual to me.

Even dropping into League One didn’t deter me from attending matches home and away when I could.

Yet the last fortnight has done a lot to damage the passion I have for this club. What’s more is that, if not reversed quickly, the club could be at great risk of losing a serious number of supporters.

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

My first full season as a fan was 2005/06, which was the infamous ‘15 point’ campaign. Watching us play was a chore, but with relegation feeling almost certain for most of the season it felt as though the following Championship season would be far better. And it was.

In fact, we were almost spoiled that season with a squad fully behind its manager and beating every side it came up against, in the second half of the season anyway.

For younger fans, the past five years have been bleak. Relegation from the Premier League was hoped to be the chance of a clean slate in the Championship (like it had been in 06/07) but this never materialised and some shocking displays sealed a second straight relegation.

What’s followed has been four years of mediocrity in the third tier and, with a very real risk of this becoming five, the joy of following the club might never have existed for fans of a certain young age.

Bringing young fans back to the SoL week in, week out was always going to be hard four years into League One life, but now with the easy access to watching Premier League games and the optimism of those up the road, the attraction of spending the afternoon in the Stadium of Light may be waning.

What doesn’t help with this is the fact that it’s easier to buy a Newcastle shirt in Sunderland than it is to buy a Sunderland shirt, neglecting an easy way of getting more people wearing our colours in the city.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

There will be plenty of older fans whose patience with SAFC may finally be wearing out of course, but at least they would have at least been around long enough to have enjoyed the Reidy days and, if old enough, the FA Cup win.

It doesn’t say much that we’ve had about five memorable seasons in almost 50 years, but that’s the truth of it.

There have been some dire times in our recent history, but the last fortnight is up there with one of the worst.

Alex Neil has come into the hot seat of a club in turmoil knowing that he wasn’t the first choice.

We are a laughing stock, but unfortunately, it’s nothing new. A week ago we were all eagerly anticipating the Doncaster match and the return of Defoe.

Now, we are at a point where the season feels like it's over, and it’s not even halfway through February.

The draw at AFC Wimbledon was flat and lethargic, and it left us with one win in eight.

Back to back home games now will be crucial in salvaging our season.

Hopefully, Alex Neil can turn things around quickly, and re-engage the fan base – a play off win at Wembley would certainly make things an awful lot better!

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