While Sunderland fans remain hopeful of big changes on the pitch at the Stadium of Light in the next few months, there will definitely be big changes off it next season.
GRAEME ANDERSON looks at the announcement that away fans will be moved to a different part of the ground from the start of the 2012/13 season.
IF football was ideal, all grounds would be like the Stadium of Light is now, with away fans given good seats and a generous position from which to try to sway the game the visitors’ way.
Fair’s fair. A sporting chance and all that.
And when the Stadium of Light was first opened in 1997, those aspirations still held true, which was why away fans were advantageously housed in the west side of the south stand behind the goal and the ground specifically designed around that fact.
Unfortunately, football is not ideal and the distribution of away supporters in clubs across the Premier League illustrates that clubs no longer operate on a level playing field in this respect.
It is increasingly rare for clubs to offer fans as generous a ticket allocation as Sunderland do and, more importantly, pretty much unheard of for supporters to be in such an influential position in the ground.
At Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, fans are squeezed into corners – comfortably padded corners it has to be conceded in the Emirates case, though at Old Trafford the situation is worsened by housing the away support one tier up.
Liverpool and Everton put away supporters behind the goal, but almost in the corner, and sufficiently marginalised that they are not in the eyeline of the attacking side like they are at the Stadium of Light.
At the old grounds of the Merseyside clubs, there’s also the disadvantage that when the ball gets kicked up in the air, the seating lay-out means that, for many fans, it disappears from view.
Admittedly, some of the lesser sides in the league – those who rely much more on away ticket revenue to prosper such as Bolton, Wigan and Blackburn – still give generous away allocations and decent seats.
But for Sunderland fans the positioning of the away fans at the Stadium of Light has been a running sore for some time now and for two reasons above all others – firstly, because it gives visiting fans an influence on the game that they themselves don’t get on their travels and secondly, because when visiting clubs bring up few fans – as they did in the recent games against Stoke and West Brom – it gives the impression in camera shots and thus to the outside world that the stadium is virtually deserted.
This will change from next season, but the club deserves great credit for making it happen because logistically it is something of a nightmare to achieve.
* Read Graeme’s full viewpoint only in tonight’s Football Echo