Recently, I was watching ‘On The Up’, the season review of Sunderland’s immortal 2006/2007 campaign which saw us go from relegation fodder to league champions under the management of Roy Keane.
As I relived the highs and lows of that campaign through the in-game footage and Simon Crabtree’s narration, it got me thinking somewhat nostalgically about how the evolution of social media has changed the experience of being a Sunderland supporter.
That particular season, I was seventeen years old and studying at Durham Sixth Form Centre.
The football allegiances were divided reasonably evenly between Newcastle and Sunderland, and Monday mornings were the time for fervent discussion about the weekend’s games and how things were panning out.
At the end of the summer transfer window of 2006, as a swathe of new players arrived at the club, we were already excitedly chatting about how they might fit in and how things would change now that Niall Quinn was running the show. Indeed, when Dwight Yorke was persuaded to swap Australia for Wearside, we all did a double take- just what exactly was happening?
By the spring of 2007, our group of Sunderland-supporting friends were getting ever more excited about what was happening, and when we got together after that away victory over Southampton, all we could talk about was how we’d cope in the Premier League, such was the belief that promotion was coming.
Granted, our teachers might not have been too thrilled at the constant cross-classroom banter, but we were young and football daft, so what did we care?
Smartphones were very much in their infancy back then, and that clunky old platform of MySpace still led the way when it came to social media, so when it came to dissecting the weekend’s action, you had to - shock horror - actually talk to people!
Character limits, hashtags and Twitter polls? Who needed them?
Going even further back, to the 1998/1999 season, I would often dash to the local off licence to pick up the latest edition of The Football Echo after a game and it felt exciting as you relived the day’s action and found yourself caught up in the drama once again. You also had the added bonus of the Echo’s fantasy football league, but that brought no real success for me!
In those pre-internet days, reading about a game and supporting the club in general just felt more personal and a lot more organic.
You could form your own views on what had happened, you could chat about the games with your mates at school and you didn’t have to worry about social media pile ons. Also, there was no better way to feed the enthusiasm for Sunderland than with magazines such as the brilliant The Wearside Roar, of which I was an avid reader.
In many ways, it was more enjoyable, but you can’t hold back the passage of time and in 2023, it’s an entirely different landscape.
Nowadays, videos of goals, match day selfies and pre, mid and post-game analysis can be found on Twitter from the morning of a game until the wee small hours of the following day.
In addition, interviews with players and coaches are uploaded regularly, meaning we know more about them than ever and there are no real fallow periods, and that’s to say nothing of the multitude of Sunderland bloggers who share their experiences of following the team far and wide through YouTube videos.
Opinions fly, arguments rage and everyone has their say, until eventually things calm down…only to start again when the next match day rolls around.
There’s no doubt that it makes being a fan a more intense experience, and whilst it’s certainly enabled the Sunderland fan community to gain even more traction, not least through the advent of podcasts, fan sites and enthusiastic YouTubers, sometimes it’s easier to try and switch off for a while.
Less used to be more when it came to football coverage, and with TV coverage now more widespread than ever before, it truly is a never-ending cycle as broadcasters push their products and the internet fuels the fire.
Perhaps football was always destined to get caught up in the rise of social media, and the majority of clubs have certainly maximised the various platforms to their fullest extent.
The recently released video of Luke O’Nien, for example, could only have been done in the modern era, and it’s definitely given the younger generation something to embrace.
How the world of red and white social media will look in ten years’ time is anyone’s guess, as another generational change unfolds and things doubtless ramp up even further. There’s a world of information and opinions at our fingertips nowadays, but I do think that the level of saturation has robbed us of something special, and something that we can never recapture.