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Fan Letters: Off-field special - will Sunderland please get their act together?

From away fan missiles to the club shop, unanswered phones to obnoxious security guards, it doesn’t seem like much is going right off the field at SAFC. What do you think? Email us:

Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Read the statement from the club this morning, and my goodness, what a shambles! I have never heard such limp wording from a club regarding a potentially dangerous situation (they even outdid American sports clubs, which are notorious for putting out grandiose-sounding statements that really say nothing).

Very appalling that the club are not going to do anything about the issues with away supporters at the Stadium of Light. Seems like there are two very simple (and cheap!) solutions to this: move away supporters back down to the lower bowl, or install netting to protect home supporters as much as possible.

This is on top of the issues around ticketing and the team store! Been reading a ton online of justifiably upset supporters regarding both, and while I am not sure what to do about ticketing (there is a much better and easier solution available like printing and sending out physical tickets), the shop has a very easy solution that benefits everyone. Open a team shop in a location that is accessible, have set hours of operation and hire people to work the shop! Then it can be run like any other business and hopefully have items that people want in stock or on order.

Glad the on-field product is going nicely and has seemingly been sorted, but now it is time to also concretely address the off-field issues with actions, not very limp sounding words,

Azlyn Braun

Dear Roker Report,

I attended today's game with my 8-year-old daughter. I have purchased her a season card for the first time in the family enclosure. I myself have been a season card holder for 25 years.

On arrival through the turnstiles, I was greeted by what can only be described as a run-down, dirty looking and uninspiring concourse area.

To say it was a disappointment was an understatement. Worn green coloured paint on floor, old pictures on walls, TVs turned off, and even kiosks closed (see photo). When I went to buy a beer, I was informed there was only one available on draught despite it being the first game of season! The food selection was very limited and extortionate in pricing.

How this sort of image is going to inspire a new generation of supporters?

Of course, this is only one example of how the club leaves a lot to be desired off the pitch that needs urgent attention. We have had long-running issues with the ticketing and merchandise aspect, including emails and phones going unanswered, not to mention the trading hours of the club shop.

Only this week-long queues occurred as a result of poor staffing levels, and for their troubles, a selection of fans were allegedly verbally abused by a security guard! Despite new strips being released, stock levels have not been sufficient to meet the obvious demands.

Where would we be without the fans? Our brilliant ‘Spirit of 37’ group have single handed transformed the pre-match atmosphere at the SOL with their fantastic displays. This is funded by the supporters and set up and tidied away even by, yes you have guessed it the supporters!

What is the club doing to support and contribute to the experience other than opening up a gate to let us in? Other than a new playlist and a half-time fan challenge which was pretty lame today, what are they doing? Where are the ideas and evidence feedback has been taken on board from previous supporter meetings?

I could go on… run down, tired-looking posters, paintwork both inside and outside stadium, a dozen floodlights off, poor sound systems. How are these still going unnoticed and not sorted?

Please can we raise these issues at the next meeting and push the powers that be on a response!

Gary Collingwood

Dear Roker Report,

Where shall I start? Sunday’s incidents were dreadful.

They only started since we dropped to that awful League One. They come to a big stadium and crowd and try to create a rivalry that doesn’t exist. Coventry and Portsmouth come to mind. It never happened in the EPL at the SOL. Look at our friends up the road. Away fans up in the sky but hardly any problems.

The only solution is to ban them and no ticket allocation. It’s less revenue for us, but it will send the right message. It will hit the genuine fans, but hopefully it will teach the idiots a lesson. No way we should relocate the away fans to the South Stand. It’s the ROKER End now. We just have created the best atmosphere at the S.O.L don’t ruin it.

Rivalry chanting is fine as long it’s not offensive, but throwing objects at home fans isn’t acceptable, and that goes to all fans.

Win, draw or lose, let’s all enjoy the beautiful game.

Anthony DeGiovanni

Editor’s reply [Martin]: Thanks Anthony, Azlyn and Gary for your emails – I’ll reply to them in one go as they all cover similar topics.

Over the past 18 months or so, we’ve got an awful lot right on the football side of things. We’ve had new structures and systems put in place, recruitment is being performed intelligently and we’ve seen us achieve success in terms of getting out of League One. That’s the huge positive, and credit has to go to the club for that – KLD, Kristjaan Speakman and Alex Neil in particular, plus the new staff they’ve brought on board.

Off the field, however, we’re seeing the polar opposite. It’s an absolute shambles and the recent minutes from the Red and White Army – who are in pole position to take the club to task about this – just show the extent of the problem.

I’ve just name-checked a few people at the club who deserve praise, so conversely it’s only right to say that KLD and Steve Davison take the brunt of this criticism. Yes, they have staff working beneath them, but ultimately these two are responsible as the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer. The way the ticket office and the club shop have been run over the past 18 months has been a disgrace. The ground’s looking tired and shabby – yes, as Davison pointed out to the RAWA there have been concerts on this summer, but it’s an excuse.

The apparent lack of response to emails and phone calls is pathetic and disturbing. Regardless of half-decent practice and general customer service standards, with everything that’s going on at Newcastle at present, there’s a real risk we’ll lose generations of supporters up the road. That might seem a bit melodramatic, but we saw the same thing happen during the Hall and Keegan era, and if we’re not making it as easy, as pleasant and as enjoyable for people to support us then we’re going to lose people, it’s as simple as that.

As for fan safety, the club have a duty of care to protect supporters, and at present it’s not doing that for those in the North Stand. The problem has to be tackled – and again, Steve Davison’s head-in-the-sand attitude about this is worrying. He said they wouldn’t be putting netting up to keep home fans safe from missiles thrown from above. So what then? We can’t relocate away fans without major upheaval for season card holders, match day protocols etc, so what’s going to happen?

Yes, we can ban Coventry supporters from the Stadium, but that’s acting after the event. The club need to do something to keep home supporters safe, because it’s only a matter of time until something serious happens – and given the number of ‘warnings’ the club have had they’d find themselves in bother if they willingly let something happen that could have been easily prevented.

By the way, if you think our statement was poor, check out Coventry’s...

I’d love for all of these things to be non-issues. It really frustrates me that they are. The marketing, communications, retail, ticketing, ‘fan experience’ side of any sports business is the easy stuff. It’s all controllable and something you can excel at with the right people involved. They’re far easier to fix than getting the football side of things right, but unfortunately we’re looking downright incompetent off the field at present.

The club are exclusively communicating with supporters through RAWA so I would urge everyone who has got concerns to contact RAWA to push them to challenge the club and hold the club to account, rather than accept the trite, dismissive answers that were provided by the club recently.

These are genuine concerns from fans. With the number of letters we’ve had and examples of people’s issues shared on social media it’s very real and needs to be addressed. And, as I said, it’s all stuff that should and could be very easily resolved. We’ve already published a number of pieces on it, both letters and opinion articles, and it is distracting us from what we should be talking about and what we want to talk about, which is the on-the-field stuff.


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