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Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round

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Sunderland fans were let down this week - and the playing staff aren’t to blame

“This last week has been one of the lowest in recent history for Sunderland fans, but the embarrassment was more hurtful off the pitch than on it,” writes Paddy Hollis.

Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

The dust has settled on the Tyne-Wear derby defeat and it’s fair to say most of us are pleased it’s over with. Newcastle got the routine win their state-backed multi-million-pound squad deserved, helped by a pretty meek Sunderland display.

Yet the 3-0 loss to the old enemy paled in comparison to how embarrassing the week has been for the club off the pitch. The disastrous start to 2024 has seen us look pathetic, shambolic, and operated on a level that would make National League North clubs suffer.

The terrible running of the club off the pitch is, sadly, nothing new. In recent years fans have been unable to complete the simple task of visiting the ticket office or buying a shirt in the club shop. These are the bare basics of interaction that fans should be able to have at a given time and place with their football club, but all too often they have not.

The fact that you can buy a Newcastle shirt in Sunderland city centre but not a Sunderland shirt is a whole other worrying aspect — and one which would inevitably lead to generations of fans changing allegiances.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

The latest fiasco started shortly after the FA Cup Third Round Draw. It was revealed that the visitors would receive 6,000 tickets, and then that almost a third of these would be corporate tickets. The week leading up to the derby, the higher-ups made the club look even more like an embarrassing, amateurish outfit.

Allowing the Black Cats Bar to be decked out in black and white was humiliating, and when it was then discovered that we had sent out tickets with ‘Sky Bet League One’ branding instead of that for the FA Cup, the build-up for kick-off was hit even more.

The Mags have had fun on social media, and who can blame them? We would be the same if the shoe were on the other foot, then again they aren’t run like an absolute shitshow. Why would we even give them the chance to laud over how ‘generous’ we’ve been? The club disgraced itself off the pitch last week and topped it off by barely laying a finger on our biggest rivals on it.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

What makes the off-field disasters worse is, like I said previously, it's nothing new. Somehow, we’ve sleepwalked into a position where this national PR disaster has been waiting to happen, and not one person at the club seemed to think: “no, hang on, this will make us look like a tinpot bunch of amateurs.”

We’ve been left humiliated so far in 2024, with the comfortable 2-0 win against Preston North End on New Year’s Day being the only real positive. Something seriously needs to change within the club, and the standard of off-pitch operations needs to improve drastically.

If we intend on building for the Premier League in the coming years, then it goes beyond getting a capable squad together. We need to be a consistently better football club behind the scenes and at this point, it feels that the people in charge of off-the-pitch operations are not doing their jobs.

We average over 40,000 in league attendances this season and regularly sell out away games (the mammoth trip to Ipswich on Saturday being the latest example). The club can’t take the fans for granted, and these last few weeks have seen many supporter's patience with those running the club wear to its thinnest in many years.

SAFC need to start getting decisions off the pitch right again, and sharpish.

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