I have supported Sunderland for 35 years now. My first ever game was actually at this level – a Division Three home win over York City in October 1987.
In those 35 years, I have felt what I thought was the full range of emotions whilst following Sunderland. They have made me happy, they have made me sad. They have made me delirious with joy and inconsolable with sorrow. They have made me feel proud and they have made me feel ashamed.
In the last week or so, though, they have made me feel something I have never felt before as a Sunderland fan: insulted.
Obviously, there have been some rough times before. If I am honest there have been a lot more rough times than good ones, and I’d wager that trend will likely continue for however many years I have left.
Despite that, those times are not what I define being a Sunderland supporter by. It’s actually the reaction to them. The defiance, the determination to try again, the quite frankly unending optimism from those in charge that things will be all okay somehow.
Then there is the dark humour from the supporters and the reservoir of resilience we never fail to drain. Even when I have felt I have no resilience to the hurt left myself, other fans have pulled me up from the floor with theirs. I’d like to think I have returned that favour once or twice too.
Since Lee Johnson was sacked, though, for the first time the message from the club has felt like a white flag. There has been no defiance, no resolve. In fact, there has been nothing much of anything at all except waffle and wasted time.
Of course, I don’t expect them to conduct their business in public and nor would I want them to. I don’t know if they are trying to pull off a deeply ambitious and complicated deal to appoint a new manager. If Roy Keane is indeed the man they want, then it probably isn’t the easiest deal to do. I understand that.
It’s not so much what has been communicated, though, it’s how it has been communicated. I actually feel very much talked down to by the club, as if I am some irrational child who doesn’t know what’s best for him so has to simply trust the grown-ups.
I may not know the details of what the club are working on, but I know plenty. I know how desperate our situation is for a start, and how crucial it was that the club acted decisively after sacking a manager mid-way through a season when everything was still to play for.
“I think the great thing is everyone is really calm and patient about it,” Kristjaan Speakman brazenly told Frankie Francis and Danny Collins before the debacle against Doncaster.
Well, frankly, after four years in League One and with two relegation seasons directly preceding them… no, Mr Speakman, there is not one single Sunderland supporter who is calm and patient about the current situation. Nor will there be many, if any, who think it’s ‘great’ that the club are bragging about a lack of urgency on the matter either.
“Everyone has got a lot of respect and really trust the staff here and the players,” was Speakman’s next boast, just minutes after the academy paper-pusher who had been put in charge, and who would three days later openly admit to being out of his depth, named, for all intents and purposes, the same team who just a week before delivered arguably the worst result in the club’s entire history.
Mike Dodds is not to blame for this mess, but he is not helping either. Minutes after losing at home to the bottom-placed team in League One, he was communicating his ‘devastation’ for the players through club channels.
The players?! When did they become the victims in this? 38,000 Sunderland fans turned up to support those players in a show of faith and support they do not deserve, and every one of them was let down by them. Dodds managed to put his ‘devastation’ for the players on record three times before those fans even got a mention.
Speakman has done plenty of good stuff in my opinion, and it’s important I stress that. I like what he has done with the squad. It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better and more exciting than it was the day he arrived.
Similarly, I like the shifts he has made in the infrastructure such as bringing in a new data-driven philosophy to the recruitment team. He is far from a total dud, however bad a couple of weeks he has had.
However, the way the whole club has presented itself to supporters since Lee Johnson’s sacking, regardless of their intent, has been atrocious and they can’t get away from it.
Indeed, there are only two times since I have supported Sunderland when the entire fanbase have seemingly unanimously agreed on something: The first was that Howard Wilkinson was going to be a disastrous appointment, the second is now – how horrendously the club have handled the last week or so.
If Speakman and Kyril Louis-Drefus need someone to spell it out for them, allow me to give it a go.
The very fact that Sunderland are playing in League One is already an insult to the club we love. It is a dagger that has been delivered to the hearts of us all on a daily basis now for nearly four years.
So, no, Kristjaan, it is not ‘great’ that everyone at the club is so patient to fix it. It’s an insult. It’s also an insult to brag – after a week and now even longer – about refusing to be rushed to do anything about a rut that now looks like perpetuating the pain of supporters into a fifth agonising year, particularly when swifter action could have had a hell of a chance of avoiding it.
Ultimately, we can’t help but be left with an impression of Speakman as Nero, idly fiddling away with his precious ‘process’ while Sunderland’s promotion hopes burn.
In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that every single word that has come out of the club this month has done nothing but make things look and feel a hell of a lot worse, and we deserve a hell of a lot better than that.