No Regrets - Niall Quinn

Sunderland's chairman Niall Quinn (left), Ellis Small and David Miliband during the Barclays Premier League match at the Stadium of Light

Sunderland's chairman Niall Quinn (left), Ellis Small and David Miliband during the Barclays Premier League match at the Stadium of Light

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NIALL QUINN says he does not regret using the word ‘despicable’ to describe Sunderland fans who can afford to come to games at the Stadium of Light but instead choose to spend their money in the pubs of Wearside watching them on foreign television.

But he does accept he might have been guilty of exaggeration when it comes to the word he used.

The club chairman was trying to ignite the debate over the rights and wrongs of fans staying away from the Stadium of Light to get their match-day fix in the pubs.

And he certainly succeeded in getting enough publicity after commenting last weekend that he found fans who spend their ticket money watching live Sunderland matches in the pubs: “despicable.”

Today he told the Echo: “It’s a strong word and I thought long and hard about using it. It’s a very emotive word and I used it to get a response; to get people talking.

“If I’m asked to backtrack a little, then I’m happy to do that – I don’t particularly ‘despise’ anyone.

“But do I regret using the word? No, absolutely not, because if it was a little over the top it doesn’t particularly matter – it has got people talking.

“It has got the issue on the front and back pages of the papers and that’s what we need, we need this debate.

“Last year I raised my concerns about this and it got a bit of a mention and that it tailed away.

“This time, we’ve really got people talking and we need that because we are talking about something which could be fundamental to the future of our club.”

Quinn has warned that if more and more fans choose pub TV rather than going to the Stadium of Light, the falling attendances will eventually force the club to downsize.

It’s a path that the chairman himself is desperate to avoid, having spent the last five years engineering the steady rise of the club.

He said: “Ultimately I’ve always had faith in the passion, the support, the size of the Sunderland crowd and it’s that size which can drive the club forwards.

“If we lose that though, if people get out of the habit of coming to games then we will get to a point where we have to adjust our horizons.

“I can’t keep asking the owner to invest if the supporters are failing to respond or, even worse, becoming fewer and fewer.

“The size of the club is what has seen us rise to the point where we are but if crowds continue to decline then we’ll get to a stage where we have to say ‘OK, what kind of club are we going to be?

“We might just have to settle for being one of the teams whose ambition every year is simply to stay in the division and that’s not what I or the owner want.

“It’s up to the supporters though to keep us going by making a conscious decision to keep on turning up at the Stadium of Light to physically support us if they can.”