It’s been said so many times – there’s no other club in Europe that would attract crowds over 30,000 in their fourth season in tier three.
Long-suffering, passionate, loyal, knowledgeable, caring; there are so many adjectives that you can associate with the men, women and children who travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of pounds following our club around the country.
Sunderland AFC as a football community is a wonderful thing, both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
Together, Sunderland supporters have raised huge amounts for good causes. Together, Sunderland supporters support our fellow fans in need. Together, Sunderland supporters kept this ship afloat through the storms that have battered it over the last decade or more.
And it’s hard. The last month has been perhaps the hardest of the lot for many – seeing the mess we’ve managed to get ourselves in through inexperienced decision making, mixed in with bursts of joy, excitement and hope at potential new dawns and returning heroes, and then watching as reality bites every time the Lads take to the field in League One.
Every club, and every part of society, has its proportion of grifters, liars, self-publicists and hate-mongers; they always have, and they always will.
Social media gives these people a disproportionate voice and influence, and gives us a distorted view of the reality of a situation. It’s literally designed to be an outrage machine. It’s designed to spread the voice of those who go to extremes because it’s those voices that provoke extreme reactions in others.
I’ve seen people on Twitter call for a club shareholder in the club to be “topped” for attending a Sunderland match. I’ve seen men on Facebook claim they’d only watch women’s football if it was played in the nude - just two of many examples of things I’ve read recently that have disappointed me. If these things happened on the street, the people behind them would be liable for arrest.
All of these incidents make my heart drop, and make me certain that my own withdrawal from social media recently is the right decision for me and my (generally pretty up and down) mental health. It’s time we showed one another a little more respect.
Having our own personal opinions and disagreeing about football is part of what makes the game so interesting. We see a range of opinions reflected within these pages and within Sunderland fan media in general. Go down to the pub and ask a dozen people their thoughts on any topic and you’ll probably get two dozen different opinions back.
That’s a really good thing and the culture that makes Sunderland a unique place to watch and play football.
It’s a 24 hour, 7 days a week religious devotion and at the minute, we are in the midst of the turmoil that comes with a reformation of religion. It is messy, there will be lies told and there will be truths that are never spoken, and it can be hard to distinguish the reality of a situation in which little is communicated publicly by those who actually understand the process of change that is underway.
But, football is also a game. One we love, but one where the immediate consequences of losing are usually nothing more than three points lost. Those we disagree with are not heretics, they are not disloyal, they are not targets to be sought out and demolished for the purity of a particular creed.
They are people. Fellow human beings with feelings and emotions. Compatriots with whom we may well have once hugged after a goal went in, or shared a joke with in the loos at half-time. They are supporters – ones who support a cause, and some are fanatics – ones who are “inspired by a god”. But they are people first and foremost.
There are very many thousands of Sunderland supporters that do not proactively use any form of social media at all to engage with the game. They simply watch, read, listen, and chat about the club with their families and friends. They have no profile, and their voices are not heard, but they are no less a part of the club than someone with thousands of Twitter followers and a podcast platform. They deserve the respect of those who claim to speak on behalf of fans - that their silence is not taken as agreement with what seems to be a majority view on Twitter or on a forum.
It’s not always easy, in the media and social environment we have, to stay respectful. We all get frustrated with the daft things that other people say; the writers and podcasters here are no different to you. We all say things when we’re low, frustrated, sad or annoyed that we may well regret. We do have a platform, we do have a voice, and we will try to use that to support this club being as successful as possible.
As fanzine editors, we have a responsibility to talk about the trends that are out there and say things as we know to be the case and know to be untrue. We try to be honest with our readers and listeners about things we don’t know too. It's okay not to have an answer - it’s okay not to be sure. It's okay to see things from a number of nuanced angles and to allow space for a variety of opinions.
And there are certainly unanswered questions regarding ownership and decision-making that the club should be able to be addressed openly and honestly. They are important for the transparency that needs to be at the heart of any football club’s relationship with its fans. That is why we have the Red & White Army, and groups like the BLC.
The fan collective meeting this week is absolutely crucial. I recently stepped down as Roker Report’s rep RAWA for personal reasons, but I fully support all the questions that have been asked and will continue to be asked about who owns what share of our club and exactly who is involved in decision-making processes. This is how the club’s board can show us all the respect we deserve.
I also hope that once the reforms of football governance are instituted through IREF, the fan’s shadow board will have the kind of oversight on these matters that mean no matter who owns what part of the club, we as fans are properly informed and the assets of our club are properly protected.
And on the specific issue of Donald and Methven’s continued part-ownership of the club; I truly wish they’d sell up sooner rather than later, whilst acknowledging the reality that nobody can force this desirable outcome to happen.
This fanzine was at the centre of the Donald Out campaign along with colleagues at Wise Men Say and ALS, we refused to do podcasts with them after they messed WMS around, we backed up writers who were threatened with legal action and singled out in meetings with the club during 2020, and as an editorial team we think that their continued presence at Sunderland matches does nobody any good whatsoever.
So yes, it’s been a tough few weeks for all of us – me and you and everyone else who loves this club. It’s been a tough few seasons down here, after a tough few seasons up there, and it’s not likely to get any easier for a good while yet.
But if there’s one aspect of the religiosity of being a Sunderland supporter that I always fall back on it’s this...
Keep the Faith.