Dear Roker Report,
After sixty years of being a fan, I’m sad to say that I’m seriously considering giving up one of my greatest passions in life: Sunderland AFC.
I never got to Roker Park when I was six, even though I pleaded with my Dad to take us before we emigrated to Australia. It’s taken some considerable effort and financial investment to have been on what’s been an emotional roller coaster at times, but there have been no regrets.
To follow Sunderland from afar wasn’t easy.
When I arrived in Australia in 1968, the only way to find the Lads’ results was to pore through a tiny column of results hidden away in Monday’s paper, but this provided nowhere near enough detail for me. I wanted to know who’d scored and who was playing, and worst of all, there was no league table.
Therefore, I compiled my own from the results, and then I spotted Shoot magazine, which has a lot to answer for as it made my obsession so much easier.
In Western Australia in 1968, there were no junior football teams- only those of the ridiculous Australian format, so to finally have results and match reports was an absolute godsend.
I was six weeks behind the games and Shoot magazine arrived by sea, but I didn’t care as it satisfied my craving for football.
In the 1970s, Match of the Day arrived and for the first time in years, I actually got to see some football, before ABC started showing the FA Cup final live in 1972. The following year, Dad and I nearly punched holes in the ceiling when Ian Porterfield scored.
I’ve spent all my life savings (gladly) in 2014 and 2016 to visit the Stadium of Light with my long lost family, for one stadium tour and two matches: Spurs in 2014 and Crystal Palace in 2016, and I’d used the SAFSee streaming service until I had trouble renewing.
I haven’t seen all the matches this season but I did get to view the Hull game and the FA Cup tie against Newcastle.
Combined with what I hear about the Black Cats’ Bar debacle, merchandise and ticketing issues, and the woeful football being played under the worst coach we have ever employed, it’s with tears in my eyes I’m leaving this club behind me.
They took £140 off me to have me stuck in limbo whereby I can’t even get in touch for support.
I’m therefore of the opinion that the current board, as expressed by others, doesn’t give a toss about the fans, including some of us who’ve put their heart and soul into this wonderful club. Instead, they only yearn for the money.
See you all when this lot is gone, because I’m out, the same as Michael Beale should be.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, David. Thank you for your letter and for sharing your memories of being a Sunderland fan from afar!
It’s sad to hear that you’re considering giving up your support of the club, but the views you’ve expressed seem to be increasingly common, as after six weeks of PR errors combined with customer service issues that go back years, plenty of supporters seem to have reached a tipping point with the club and its attitude towards the fans.
I don’t feel that it’s too late for the current regime to win back trust and to prove that they do have the club’s best interests at heart, but they’re really up against it and we need to see some firm action in the coming weeks to rectify some of the mistakes that have been made.
Dear Roker Report,
I feel sorry for the Sunderland old boys who’ve been following their club since the 1950’s and have seen the good times and the bad times, but mainly the latter!
I first watched Sunderland in the late 50’s and early 1960’s, after we were relegated in 1958.
I came from Springwell, a village that had equal numbers of Sunderland and Newcastle United fans, and who watched both teams.
I left the area completely in the 1960’s with great memories of my occasional visits to Roker Park and seeing the greatest matches versus the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United, in which Sunderland, Charlie Hurley, and Roker Park witnessed some of their greatest moments, the like of which have never been seen since.
Getting back to the top flight is probably more difficult today than it was in those days, and I even recall some fans at Sunderland saying they preferred the club in Division Two and the joy of taking on the big boys at Roker and beating them!
However, it’s all about the ownership and the quality of personnel today, with the off-field issues as important as the players themselves. You only have to look at Newcastle to see that, because both clubs, despite fine stadia and great fans, have missed out on real success for far too long.
I have no doubt that Sunderland can get back, somehow.
The place, its people and the fans all deserve better. Few areas can equal the North East as a place of football passion and I refuse to believe this won’t draw the best new ownership sooner or later.
Maybe then, the older fans who have little time left will see their dreams come true, and I hope so with all of my heart, because nothing would give me greater football satisfaction in my own remaining time in permanent exile.
Dear Roker Report,
I echo Roy Swanston’s comments.
My father, who was also a lifelong supporter, took me to my first game in 1947, when Johnny Mapson was still our goalkeeper!
The whole town supported the team and like Roy l was devastated when we were relegated for the first time. Since then we’ve been a yo-yo team, but the support is as loyal as it was in the past, when we were one of the big clubs.
I really thought things were on the up when Sam Allardyce was here, but after he left, things went from bad to worse.
Just as things were on the up again under Tony Mowbray, the board decided to dismantle what was a promising coaching setup and take us on another path into more gloom and mediocrity at best.
I also wonder if we’ll ever see the team back were they belong: in the Premier League in my lifetime. I doubt it.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi Jonno and David. Thank you for getting in touch.
That’s the dream, isn’t it? That we’ll eventually be welcoming top flight football back to Wearside and that the country’s finest footballers will be walking down the tunnel at the Stadium of Light in the near future.
That needs to be the goal that drives everyone at the club on, and they can’t afford to lose sight of it. It’s been seven years since we dropped out of the Premier League, and they shouldn’t ease up until we’re back in the big time.
Dear Roker Report,
During a recent interview, Michael Beale indicated that he was perplexed and bemused by the fan reaction to our recent results, as we hadn’t done too well before his appointment.
Surely he didn’t think that Tony Mowbray had been sacked purely because he’d questioned the model and had been critical of the centre forward position? Yes, the supporters are concerned about our lack of goals but I think that’s a result of our tactical approach rather than the individuals at the club at present.
Brian Clough at his best wouldn’t have scored in this team as we fail to provide any crosses. Put any two of our four centre forwards up front against Hull and I’m certain we could’ve won that game.
However, Beale didn’t recognise our limited forward play even though he had ample time to see our strengths and weaknesses.
Last season, we were treated to attacking football and the supporters loved it. We can’t go back to a negative approach which was where Mowbray was going and where Beale appears to be most comfortable.
If that’s the case then we really need to get rid of him now. Whether we win, lose or draw against Stoke today, I’ll be more interested in team selection and how we approach the game.
Negativity has to go or he does.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Bill. Thank you for your letter.
Today’s game against Stoke is going to be absolutely vital, and I really hope that for the sake of morale, especially with a game against Middlesbrough to come, we can secure a victory which would certainly calm things down, if not convince everyone that Michael Beale is the right man for us.
Some of his recent selections and tactical decisions have been baffling, and I just hope that we go into the game with a more positive mindset and the intention to win the game.
Trying to contain the visitors for ninety minutes would be self-defeating and would lead to more awkward questions.
Dear Roker Report,
I’ve been a Sunderland fan as long as I’ve known football. I’ve supported them for twenty three years now; I watch all the games- mainly on TV or over the internet- and I try to get over to a couple of games a season, which hard as it’s an eight hundred and fifty mile round trip for me.
It’s apparent that the entire fan base is drained from recent events (myself included) but the head coach and owners are doing nothing whatsoever to give us a little bit of optimism.
The style of football has got worse and Michael Beale has done nothing to try and give teams who come up against us something different to think about.
I’d personally like to see Abdoullah Ba, Jewison Bennette or Nazariy Rusyn on the wings but not always sticking to the right.
Why can’t they swap sides with Jack Clarke during a game to give the opposition something different to think about? We might be able to get some balls in to the box that way. Also, Jobe is looking burnt out like Dan Neil was under Lee Johnson in League One.
The club also said its ambition for this season was promotion. We could still achieve it; the chances seem very slim but it could be made possible with some signings.
I know the club wants to be sustainable, but if we invested a bit of money this month and were to get promoted, the transfers would be covered with the prize money achieved from that.
On the flip side, people will say ‘what if we don’t go up?’ and that money was wasted but at least the club can say we tried instead of trying to do it on a shoestring.
Also, given Michael Beale’s points return since he arrived, maybe we should’ve given Mowbray a bit longer, but these are the ifs and buts.
As much as I feel deflated about Sunderland at the moment, I still hope we can turn it round and do the right thing.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Jack. Thank you for your letter.
On the subject of our style of play, I agree that the lack of service to the strikers has been an issue. With Jewison Bennette set to leave the club for Greece, we’re losing someone who can cross a ball accurately, and it’ll be interesting to see if another wide player arrives this month.
The sustainability argument is divisive and in some ways, I understand why. People often equate ‘ambition’ with big spending and failure to do so is generally met with scepticism.
That said, there’s clearly a determination to ensure that the club never again ends up in the kind of mess that almost wiped us off the map and led to us plunging into League One, and I’ll never see that as a bad thing.
Football has changed an awful lot during the seven years that we’ve been away from the top flight, and a club like Sunderland simply has to do things differently if we want to achieve any kind of success in the future.
Dear Roker Report,
Following the post-Tony Mowbray short term implosion, I’m trying to gather some perspective.
When chatting with my mate John Watson yesterday, he was looking at the team we selected when we beat Middlesbrough last season, and we discussed expectations and the reduced squad quality.
Corry Evans would walk into this team, but is he ever going to get back to his previous level? We just don’t know, even though he’s a classy player when fit.
I understand the club have to balance the books but as your ‘Grand Designs’ piece outlined, we have one player impacting the first eleven from the summer window (Jobe) and to a much lesser extent, Jenson Seelt. We also have injuries to Niall Huggins, Dennis Cirkin and Aji Alese.
There are still people willing to back the board vocally with their lives, regardless of how they either behave towards the fanbase, or reduce the level of on field quality.
Michael Beale will be lucky to see Easter unless we get a striker to hit the ground running. As blunt as we are presently, we’re not a million miles away from being a very potent force; instead, fine margins in some of our games are taking results the other way.
I also read opinions on Nazariy Rusyn and Hemir, with people praising these lads for minimum effort.
Rusyn works hard, but so did my forefathers in the mines, and I wouldn’t want them up top on Saturday. We’re clinging on to moments from these kids who realistically shouldn’t be exposed when they’re nowhere near ready for the job.
Beale is on borrowed time and despite Kristjaan Speakman’s initially astounding work, he’s one or two windows away from undoing the bulk of his previously great work.
It’s time for him to pull a rabbit from the hat, and he’s been known to do it before.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Dean. Thank you for getting in touch.
The remainder of the January transfer window is going to be interesting and when the dominoes begin to fall more rapidly, perhaps that’s when we’ll see deals for players starting to be struck.
Personally, I would’ve expected us to sign three or four players at the most and it might still happen, but there’s no doubt that if we’re not as active in the market as we all hope, Kristjaan Speakman and his team will be under renewed scrutiny, which will doubtless lead to more questions about our ‘ambition’ in what’s becoming a repetitive cycle.
Let’s hope that those ‘scarf pictures’ arrive sooner rather than later.