DEBATE has raged since Vito Mannone pledged to organise a whip-round in the Sunderland dressing room.
The proposal to refund Sunderland supporters for their afternoon’s ‘entertainment’ at Southampton, following what for many was a 650-mile round trip, has received a distinctly mixed reception.
For some, yes, Mannone’s idea was welcomed after the cost of tickets, refreshments and travel to the south coast totted up to a fair few quid.
But for others – and it has to be said probably the majority of Sunderland fans – there was a “thanks, but no thanks” response.
An attitude prevailed that football supporters pay their money and take their chances, plus they’d far rather have seen some character on the field than off it after the dismal capitulation at St Mary’s.
Many also raised the issue of a refund setting a dangerous precedent for the aftermath of every heavy defeat.
The arguments on either side have held their merits.
Balancing them has not been easy, yet there has clearly remained a feeling among the players themselves that they wanted to make some kind of financial gesture to express their remorse at an unacceptable one-off performance.
The compromise reached by the squad and the club today hit exactly the right note.
In allowing fans who went to Southampton to either apply for a refund or allow that money to go to Grace House – something that will happen automatically if they opt against contacting the club – Sunderland have covered all their bases.
Sunderland’s players have ensured some good will come from this debacle. If as expected, the bulk of those travelling fans decide to let the money go to charity, then a hugely worthy local cause will benefit by tens of thousands of pounds.
Yes, it sets a precedent. But given Sunderland last suffered an 8-0 defeat 32 years ago, let’s just hope that it continues to be one of those once-in-a-generation freak results.
Those players involved in the St Mary’s shambles should be applauded for facing up to their responsibilities too.
In the affluent lifestyle of Premier League football, it’s all too easy for players to go home to their gated community and hide behind a wall of silence after a heavy defeat.
But five players performed post-match interview duties on the south coast and today’s gesture was a symbolic one, even if some supporters continue to think it unnecessary.
Of course, Sunderland still need to do their talking on the pitch and their must be a big response when Arsenal visit Wearside this weekend.
That is ultimately where these players will be judged, regardless of how much they donate to charity.
But as Gus Poyet’s men begin what will be a lengthy process of damage control, this is a small first step.