It was in Sunderland that I consumed the hottest curry known to man. Or rather I didn’t. The restaurant teased customers with a special prize if they were able to finish the dish that was hotter than hell. I failed to complete the course. For days after I had a fire in my belly.
Oddly, I was reminded of that when I found myself laid up sick and forced to watch Sunderland play at home against Aston Villa. Be honest. Who would watch such a match unless ill or a supporter of either club?
I know Wearside well, have made some of my favourite friends there and believe I know the mentality of the thousands of Sunderland supporters who have the word loyalty written through them like a stick of rock.
Watching Sunderland play I grew angry on their behalf – and that’s from a man who put £25 on Sunderland to be relegated at odds of 5/1 (on February 15th) As ever, I want to win bets, but I really don’t want Sunderland to go down. I don’t.
The fans have every reason to protest. I don’t blame them for leaving the ground early. What’s the point in hanging around to see players go through the motions? You work hard all year, make sacrifices to pay for a season ticket so that you can have at least one day of pleasure. You contribute towards the salaries of those who kiss the badge on their shirt. And that’s how they repay you. I’d be livid.
While no right person would condone violent action, I did get annoyed when football commentators criticised Sunderland fans for approaching the dug out and shouting at manager Gus Poyet and the players on the bench. Why shouldn’t football fans voice their anger? Why not direct some verbal abuse in the direction of footballers who earn more in a week than you do in a year?
I wish more football supporters got off their backsides and told players a few home truths. It’s time fans began their own spring uprising.
Tell them: We’ve had enough of this. Being conned into believing that footballers who play in the Premier League are special. They’re not. Stop picking on the manager each time. Direct your anger at the guilty ones – the players not fit to wear your shirt. Gus Poyet may well have made mistakes. I’d be surprised if he hasn’t. All managers do.
But, please, let’s not read about him “losing the dressing room.” That’s code for: the players have downed tools, don’t care what happens to the club they currently play for because they’ve already organised their summer holiday and their next transfer.
Their agent is busy winding them up. Whispering in their ears. Treating them in the manner of a spoilt child: “He said what to you in the dressing room?.. You can’t have the manager say that to you… Let me get you out of here…. I’ll organise another lucrative move for you… and me.”
Time was agents spoke to the manager. These days they go above his head. A Chief Executive or Chairman take their call. They listen to their complaints. Shit stirring doesn’t do justice to how some footballers and their representatives act in trying to get the manager sacked.
Unlike some of his squad, Poyet fronts up. I agree with him when he says: “I am one of the few in football who is honest.” That may not save him but, at this late stage of the season, is there any point in Sunderland parting company with Gus Poyet? Then what? It’s not like Tony Pulis is available to come in, erect the defensive barricades and save the club from falling into the Championship.
Another man comes in, quite possibly a lesser man. The footballers who fear they will not get a better gig elsewhere next season pull up their socks and put a shift in for a few games, only to then revert to type once they’re sick of the new man. If they put in that shift, it might just ensure Sunderland stay up and Burnley go down. But it’s a big IF.
Burnley players are clearly putting in a shift for their manager and fans. The Sunderland players I watched on Saturday gave the impression the football was getting in the way of their social life and luxurious lifestyle. They didn’t perspire but then, as Bobby Robson once asked: “How do you make a millionaire sweat?”
If every football fan could hear the manner in which many players talk about supporters, attendances would be way down. Don’t believe the platitudes they spout into a microphone about how they care about you? The majority don’t give a fig for your feelings.
I’m sick of saying it. If your team is performing as Sunderland did, point your finger at them.
They are grown men. They are supposedly responsible adults (for all a few in the game do their utmost to prove otherwise). The truth hurts. It goes outspoken by so many media outlets. The truth is that the modern day footballer is both overpaid and overrated.
Sky Sports blow smoke up their backsides. Broadcasters tell you, their subscribers, that Premier League players are the best in the world. What utter tosh. It’s a con job and, one way or another, you are being conned out of your hard earned.
It’s not time for forgiveness. The era of excuses has passed. It’s time fans did protest and much more often than they do now. But let’s think longer before we fall back on demanding the manager be sacked. That’s the easy option. While some managers have to go, persistent change is never the answer. I support a club that once has 12 managers in 10 years. At least that was the point at which I stopped counting. Did such a policy take Sheffield Wednesday back to the promised land? No. Far from it.
Some managers are more suited to certain clubs. The irony with the ‘Poyet Out’ campaign is that I actually think he possesses the same characteristics as the fans demanding his head be served to them on a plate. Poyet is passionate, hard working and calls a spade a shovel. The problem is that too few footballers can take straight talk. They are accustomed to people telling them how wonderful they are.
I saw Sunderland footballers going through the motions as Aston Villa coasted to a 4-0 half time lead. Had I been a Sunderland supporter I too would have gone home at half time. What form of protest do fans have other than to vote with their feet? They are vilified by some for daring to rip up their season tickets and throw the pieces of paper at substitutes. Players being paid fortunes and yet considered not good enough to be in the starting eleven of a team best described as spineless.
It’s time to out lazy footballers, regardless of which club they play for. There are in the Sunderland team certain players who have known the big time. They are so clearly going through the motions that Stevie Wonder could identify them. Those players are not only letting the side down. They are letting themselves down.
But, above all, they are short-changing supporters who have scrimped and saved to watch them at work.
Let me paint a picture. Imagine for a moment if one of the Sunderland footballers experienced a breakdown on the hard shoulder. Their £80.000 all singing, all dancing car packed up. They called for the breakdown vehicle, or for a taxi to get them home. And the driver of either failed to arrive. Opted not to put a shift in and deliberately left the footballer in the lurch.
That’s how Sunderland fans felt yesterday. I back those who protested. I support those who left early.
Frankly I’m baffled why any Sunderland supporter stayed until the bitter end. A mystery answered by loyal fan David Fenwick who displayed the wit I’ve grown accustomed to on Wearside. He said: “I stayed to the end so I would miss the traffic.”