Let me start by saying that, before I sat down to write it, I was in two minds as to whether to put this article together.
On one hand, my initial train of thought was ‘Let it go. It’s just one rogue twerp trying to get himself a bit of attention on social media’, but on the other hand, if such sickening behaviour isn’t highlighted and dealt with, it will only get worse.
I’m referring, of course, to a video that circulated on Monday morning, of a self-proclaimed Newcastle fan desecrating the statue of Bob Stokoe that sits proudly outside the Stadium of Light.
I won’t provide a description of what happened in the clip, because that would give it more oxygen that it deserves. Suffice it to say, however, the video itself, as well as this person’s brazen lack of decency, respect, and morals, is graphic, and you can only hope that he is soon tracked down and punished accordingly.
What made it all the more sickening is that there are flowers placed at the base of the statue, presumably left by Sunderland supporters in memory of loved ones, but that didn’t stop this individual as he went about his business.
The statue, particularly on match days, is a place where supporters often congregate, perhaps to take a moment of solemn reflection, or to simply relive their own memories of what the great man brought to our club during his spell as manager.
On many occasions, I have seen away fans taking photographs of themselves in front of the statue, as a keepsake from their trip to Wearside. If that means they come away with a little bit of knowledge as to why Stokoe is such an iconic figure, so much the better.
I am all for rivalries in football. Back and forth between opposing sets of supporters is what keeps our game lively and adds spice to meetings between clubs, but there comes a time when it crosses a certain line, and this was one of those occasions.
What made this act even more baffling is the fact that the man being disrespected was not a dyed-in-the-wool Mackem.
Stokoe, much like Sir Bobby Robson and the great Stan Anderson, is a figure who was able to transcend the traditional footballing rivalries of our region, and find a place in the affections of both Newcastle and Sunderland fans.
First, as an FA Cup winner with Newcastle in 1955, and latterly, as the man who managed Sunderland to a never-to-be-forgotten FA Cup triumph in 1973, before subsequently leading us back to the top flight the following season. It seems unlikely that this moronic ‘fan’ was aware of Stokoe’s links to Newcastle, but even if he was, why let that stand in the way of a few cheap ‘likes’ and fifteen minutes of fame?
The rivalry between ourselves and Newcastle often verges on the toxic, and since we have been in League One, they’ve taken great delight at our plight and portrayal on Netflix, and as we have continually tried and failed to escape this league.
Much of the back-and-forth has been tolerable and reasonably expected, however, and can usually be brushed off with a smile or a pithy retort on Twitter.
This kind of behaviour, however, is where you have to draw the line, and it was a relief to see many fair-minded Newcastle supporters criticising this individual in the aftermath. Indeed, some of them even claimed that he ‘wasn’t one of us’, and that he should be reported to the police.
I would like to think that no Sunderland fan would ever dream of vandalising or debasing the statue of Robson that sits outside St James’ Park. Why? Because he is a beloved figure among our fans, was often seen attending games as a guest of Niall Quinn, and regularly expressed a fondness for our club and the city itself. Stokoe belongs in such company, without a doubt.
There are always certain supporters who will take it too far in the pursuit of embellishing their ‘super fan’ credentials, but this was a particularly wretched example. Let’s hope that we never see such a vile act committed anywhere near our stadium again.