Dear Roker Report,
Like many fellow Sunderland fans, I enjoyed seeing the team put through their paces in the pre-season warm match up against Gateshead on Saturday.
Despite the rain, it was great to see Jobe Bellingham in action and it was also nice to see our junior players grabbing a morale-boosting win at the end.
Unfortunately, the experience was heavily tainted by several chants heard at the crowded Gateshead Stadium Metro station as fans queued to go home, which were related to the tragic death of Gary Speed.
I’d seen footage of one of these regrettable chants on social media before, a situation in which it was rightly being called out, but experiencing several of our fans singing the same song (plus another similar one) in person was an unwelcome shock.
I understand the proximity to Newcastle on Saturday and the presence of Newcastle fans in the Gateshead ground meant that some of the traditional derby day chants made an appearance, but I felt that what I heard at the Metro station should be called out.
I’ve never been more ashamed as a Sunderland fan than I was hearing several of our fans singing that. Other fans also looked similarly mortified, and they’d be able to confirm what happened.
There’s no place for it, whether at a regular season game, a friendly or anywhere else. It should be noted that this was limited to one specific group of fans, but this fact does little to mitigate the potential damage.
It seems particularly relevant so soon after the widely publicised story about the Manchester United fan who was arrested for mocking the Hillsborough disaster on the back of his shirt ahead of the FA Cup final.
Mocking someone’s death is never fair game, but considering the particularly tragic circumstances of Speed’s passing, this shouldn’t be fodder for an edgy chant.
Being tanked up on a match day isn’t an excuse either, and I’d urge other fans to call out these vulgar chants, beyond the fact these songs paint a certain pocket of our fanbase in a negative light, it was simply demoralising to hear at all.
Most of us are well aware of the present mental health crisis, and mocking it in any way is usually (rightly) seen as unconscionable conduct. There should be no exception to this standard on the basis of football rivalry.
As we aim to achieve promotion again this season, with potential future derby days against Newcastle on the horizon, it’s important to call out these chants before any more damage can be caused.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Guy. Thanks for getting in touch.
It’s always depressing to hear of such incidents taking place, and given that it’s only the first weekend of pre-season fixtures, the fact that fan behaviour is being called into question again isn’t pleasant at all.
Last season, we rightly called out opposing fans for their behaviour at the Stadium of Light, when missiles were thrown and other incidents occurred, but we’re often in a glass house and throwing stones when it comes to this subject. Simply put, we really need to get our own house in order as well as continuing to flag up inappropriate behaviour from rival supporters.
Pre-season should be a time of optimism and excitement for what’s to come, and regardless of the ‘local rivalry’ element to the Gateshead fixture, singing songs about such subjects is never acceptable.
Regardless of your allegiance, Gary Speed was a much-loved figure. His death was a tragedy and it shouldn’t be used as cheap fodder for a football chant in any circumstances.
Dear Roker Report,
As things stand today, with only one month to go until the big kick off, expectation among the fanbase is understandably high and the excitement levels are gathering pace.
A new season always brings renewed hope of better times but after a genuinely surprising yet brilliant first season back, our expectations and hopes are maybe much higher than they this time last year, but is that justified?
‘We’ll definitely be in the top two’, ‘Promotion is in the bag”, and ‘Great early recruitment means we’ll be on the front foot’ are all things I hear regularly, but is that fair?
It’s as if we’ve moved forward considerably since May, but let’s investigate the hard facts for a moment.
Most of our heroics and our late charge towards the top six relied on two factors: our ability to adapt to a sequence of horrendous injuries and the magic wands that were hidden in Amad’s feet.
Full backs filled in for centre halves; midfielders deputised for full backs and there was the reliance on either Patrick Roberts or Jack Clarke to magic something from nothing up front. We played for half a season with no strikers at the club (Joe Gelhardt wasn’t a striker) and yet the adversity was actually our strength.
It’s been two months since the Luton game and where are we now? Stronger? I’d argue not, and here’s why.
We’ve lost Amad, who was so often the difference between us drawing and winning in those tight games last season, and at the time of writing, we still don’t have a striker for the Ipswich game, so who’ll lead the line in four weeks’ time?
We’ve recruited early but of the four players we’ve brought in, who’s ready to break into the team straight away? Luis Semedo has only ever played youth football in Portugal and it would be totally unfair to expect him to step into the breach next month and score goals from day one.
It’s going to take him the whole season just to get up to speed, and Tony Mowbray has already said as much.
Nectar Triantis has an injury and Jenson Seelt might not even play in pre season, so neither will be fit to start, surely. Question marks are still raised on Aji Alese and Corry Evans’ injuries, with both set to miss pre-season.
Physicality was a big problem for us last year and we’ve brought in some big lads including Jobe Bellingham, who gives us some height and presence but at seventeen and with a handful of appearances for Birmingham, he’s hardly ready for a full Championship season either.
I fear the expectation from some of our fans is that he’s as good as his brother and that’s pressure he doesn’t really need.
So, no experienced strikers still recruited, Amad gone, and not one player signed so far who’s oven-ready to start in four weeks' time. Lots of good potential, but nothing you could hang your hat on.
Ellis Simms has signed for Coventry for a fee that could possibly rise to £8m after promotion. Some have claimed that’s too much, but if he scores a shed load of goals, it’s money well spent and if he gets them promoted, it’s a bargain.
The likes of Jewison Bennette and Isaac Lihadji are all unproven and there are no guarantees they can play in this league as yet.
Just where are these strikers we were promised at the end of the season?
Kristjaan Speakman and his team have had since February to plan for this window and there can be zero excuses this time if we fail to recruit an experienced striker. We seem no closer to even identifying such a player (and we need a minimum of two, in my opinion) let alone recruiting one.
We don’t need another eighteen or nineteen year-old kid as our main striking option, either. We need proven ability to challenge and maybe even replace Ross Stewart if he does go elsewhere.
So, are we stronger or weaker than we were in May? In my opinion, we’re weaker, and weaker in an even stronger league, too.
Leicester, Leeds and Southampton have money to blow. Coventry, Watford, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich and Middlesbrough have strengthened and there’ll be others who’ll be stronger this season. Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich are both equally big clubs who’ll look to do what we did last season and I don’t even think we’re a top six team as it stands.
Were Clarke or Roberts to pick up a knock, I think we’d be mid-table at best, and we’re one or two or injuries from slipping badly. Pierre Ekwah had three awful games and three where he looked like Patrick Vieira, so who knows what level of inconsistency he might bring?
Of course there are seven or eight weeks of the window to go but we haven’t recruited players who are ready to hit the ground running, and the clock is ticking loudly.
We do have a pretty decent squad and a quality coach, but he pulled rabbits from hats every week last season and that’s not a plan for promotion- it was just firefighting every week.
That’s unsustainable in the long term so I want to see some real ambition and real desire from Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Kristjaan Speakman in the next two months.
Otherwise, what’s the point of selling 34,000 season tickets and expecting 45,000+ crowds to watch mid-table football and see the likes of Coventry City outspending us and being more ambitious?
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Kevin, thanks for your letter.
Personally, I don’t think we’re anywhere near as weak at this stage of pre-season as you claim.
Yes, we’ve lost Amad who was always going to return to Manchester United at the end of his loan, but apart from him, we haven’t said goodbye to any key players and therefore we don’t need to completely rebuild the squad between now and the first game of the season.
It’s also worth noting that we’ve tied down Dennis Cirkin and Trai Hume to new contracts, which is a statement in itself.
On the subject of strikers, I think we need to be patient with Luis Semedo, who’s obviously been recruited with the longer term in mind, and the fact is that nobody knows how he’ll adjust to life in the Championship, so it’ll be interesting to see how he’s managed.
I do agree that one more striker is needed at the minimum, but it’s obvious that the club aren’t going to spend hefty sums of money- not without potentially selling players first, which is one of the fundamentals of this entire model.
I’m confident that we’ll add quality before the window closes, but at the same time, a major overhaul wasn’t needed this summer. Last season, Tony Mowbray often spoke about how close we were to having a squad that could compete for promotion, and our transfer business this summer suggests that the plan is being followed.
Ambition isn't just about what you spend; it’s about how you spend it and how you get the maximum value for money and as much quality into your squad for as little outlay as possible. That’s what we’re doing, it’s served us well so far, and I think that’ll continue to be the case moving forward.
Dear Roker Report,
I fully understand that it’s important to move with the times and that upgrading to new practices and technologies is vital.
However, it seems that the club just wants to jump onto new systems with no real consultations, as per QR code entries, the nightmare of the ticket office, no cash sales, and so on.
These changes may well be beneficial to the club but longtime and elderly supporters deserve more respect than we’ve had so far, and I speak as a supporter of more than seventy years.
Surely change can be phased in gradually, and both systems used until one outgrows the other?
Why upset your most faithful supporters when it’s so easy to do these things gradually? These kinds of dictatorial changes will eventually drive us away.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Frank. Thanks for your letter.
This is a topic we’ve been contacted about quite often since the changes were announced, and it’s simply a case of ensuring that all fans, both young and old, are accommodated and their needs met when it comes to season tickets.
Yes, it’s important that the club evolves and continues to embrace modern technology wherever possible, but as you rightly say, phasing it in slowly rather than making a sweeping change felt like the right way to go.
Let’s hope any hitches are kept to a minimum when it comes to the first game of the season and that no supporter is taken for granted.
Dear Roker Report,
Since Steve Davison took over the running of the non-football side of the club, everything seems to have deteriorated.
The ticket office and the club shop are a shambles; there are no staff in the ticket office and no and stock in the shop. Both need to be greatly improved.
The food is of a poorer quality, and in the Black Cats’ Bar last year it was served in a cardboard dog bowl!
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Glyn. Thanks for getting in touch.
This is a familiar topic, sadly.
There are plenty of issues that need to be solved off the field at the club, and in the past week, there’s been even more focus on this area, with further problems regarding the launch of the new kit.
If Davison can’t or won’t address these issues and set about fixing them, perhaps it’s time to bring in someone who can, and someone for whom running a club like Sunderland won’t be as arduous as he seems to find it.
Dear Roker Report,
In relation to your article about club issues, I’ve also had some disturbing exchanges with the club while asking for disabled ticket information.
I sent a basic email asking if any disabled seats were available and at what price, as the online list wasn’t clear.
The reply I received had nothing to do with what I asked. I was sent loads of random terms and conditions and I presumed it had been an automated response.
I then sent another email, this time asking to speak to a person.
They replied with a disgusting attitude saying they were a person, not a robot, and that what I’d been sent was all of the information I was going to receive from them.
I replied again quoting my original email asking about ticket price and availability, only to receive a message with a mass spam of links that had no relevance to my question.
I am now on the seventh ‘back and forth’ between the ticket office and I’m yet find out if there’s any tickets available and at what price.
All I’m looking for is ‘Yes, we have disabled tickets left and they cost X amount’, but it’s taken two weeks of emails and I still have no answer.
They keep just sending me the most random replies and it makes no sense at all.
I even started a new thread hoping to reach a different staff member to try and issue a complaint but I’ve had no response, over a week now from sending that email.
It seems like a bunch of school children running a business and it’s truly disturbing to me that we’ve fallen this far.
Keep up the good work!
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Mark. Thanks for your letter.
We've been flagging up these kinds of issues for quite some time now, both in letters from fans such as yourself and articles written by our team.
The fact that there are still so many issues regarding ticketing is unacceptable for a club of our size and despite all of the hard work that’s gone into improving the football side, we’re in poor shape in so many areas off the field.
The ball is in the club’s court now. Do they finally tackle these problems and take steps to solve them, or do they risk alienating more fans with shoddy customer service and poor standards of fan engagement?
For the future success of Sunderland, it needs to be the former.