Something Wonga with the beautiful game

Mike Ashley
Mike Ashley
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DIVVINT let them bully you son,” was Joan Wallace’s wise words to her Alan, the Sunderland pub landlord, so disgracefully given a kick in the teeth by SAFC and ordered to tear down the Black Cat flags in his pub, The Fort, in Roker.

The 43-year-old lifelong Sunderland supporter has every right to have seen red and is so disgusted that he is blatantly defying the club’s “cease and desist” warning by putting up more flags.

Pub landlord, Alan Wallace has put more SAFC flags up inside The Fort pub after SAFC ordered  him to take them down.

Pub landlord, Alan Wallace has put more SAFC flags up inside The Fort pub after SAFC ordered him to take them down.

Good for him. Not that he’s looking for a fight. But if that’s what the club wants they will have not only Alan but scores upon scores of Sunderland fans to take on. Such has been the groundswell of support for him since the Echo broke the story this week.

It’s a David and Goliath scenario. And already there’s talk of a fighting fund being set up should SAFC take this to court. There’s no commercial gain in Alan displaying the flags. He’s an even-tempered man and one with principles – so much so that he turned down £2,000 this week from a national newspaper rather than slag off his club, even though he’s still reeling from their letter which gave him 14 days to take down six flags.

It stated: “The use of SAFC products in your establishment implies a misleading affiliation between your establishment and SAFC” adding “If such is not complied with within this time, then SAFC reserves its rights to take further action, without further notice, in order to protect our intellectual property.”

Not a very intellectual move. More an own goal, one which has rightly enraged Sunderland fans.

The club here has been over-zealous in protecting its image rights. Misguided really. Before they sent out that letter, surely someone somewhere hasn’t done their homework.

Here’s a hardworking man, out to make an honest living, not on the back of the club, nor by showing S AFC matches in his pub and taking business from them but running a little watering hole that is red and white through and through, which has ironically cost Alan thousands at the club shop. And now he gets clobbered.

The very best the club could do is draw a line under this and cease and desist from taking any further action in the face of making itself even more of a laughing stock and alienating more loyal fans.

It’s admirable and a measure of the man, that Alan, shocked as he is, still has that passionate loyalty for his club that has so woefully treated him that he refuses to capitalise on this debacle and line his pockets.

As he told me: “I have got no interest in slagging off Sunderland Football Club and dragging their name through the mud. I don’t want them slated in the national press.”

So before Sunderland AFC makes any move when the 14 days run out they would do well to remember that here’s a man who turned down two grand.

It’s galling that one so loyal should have been meted out such a disservice. He’s not making any money out of flying their flags, which along with thousands of pounds worth of memorabilia fills The Fort, transforming it from the empty shell it was five years ago.

There’s shades of the Metric Martyr here. As he says: ”I don’t want any problems with the club. I do just feel they are trying to bully me into a corner. At the end of the day we are just a small bar in Roker. We are no threat to them. I am advertising for them.”

Alan has very definitely taken his mother Joan’s words to heart.

She is dying from cancer and he is now adamant: “They can take me to court. We will start a fighting fund up and have a big collection that will pay for a solicitor. Let’s see how far Sunderland really want to go.

“They have bullied me and I’m not having it. I have never been bullied in my life.”

It’s all the more maddening that a full generation of the Wallace family have fanatically stumped up to support their home team – Alan has gone since he was six and taken his daughters from when they were two-and-a-half. They are all season ticket holders. And now this is the thanks Alan gets.

It’s like Big Brother stamping on him and all he holds dear.

And that’s not lost on his regulars and supporters who have filled message boards that they are with him shoulder to shoulder and who, like Alan, must be asking themselves this question: Does Sunderland, like so many big clubs, relate to the fans?

Over in Newcastle, of course, they are laughing up their sleeves at a club that’s only got itself to blame for making itself a joke and no mistake.

And while on the subject of football, Newcastle United is as daft as it is audacious, if it thinks it can buy off fans’ fury of its sponsorship deal with Wonga, with the news that their stadium will once again be known as St James’s Park.

Now the short-term loan company has agreed a four-year-contract with Newcastle, which is understood to be worth £6million to £8 million per season. It’s truly appalling and sickening and strikes at the very heart of selling its footballing name for 30 pieces of dirty silver. What filthy lucre.

Football has long been about business. But this treats fans with utter contempt in an area where Wonga, described as “legal loan sharks” by politicians, charging a representative APR of 4,214 per cent, is the scourge of debt-ridden households.

Just how true this is, you just have to look at its interest rates charged to desperate, poor people and’s 269 per cent jump in profits in the past year.

Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City Council, spoke for thousands furious at the deal with: “We see the devastating consequences of people getting into financial difficulty and we spend a lot of money each year helping people who are in debt through companies like this. It’s a sad indictment of the profit-at-any-price culture at Newcastle United.”

No scruples whatsoever and however well Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s owner will use Wonga’s money, it is still dirty and raises the debate about the club’s wider social responsibilities.

And most especially here in the North East – a region crippled by recession and high unemployment and people who fall prey to Wonga.

The fact is if a Newcastle fan took out a loan from Wonga to buy a £49.99 home shirt, it would cost them £71.92 if they paid back in 30 days time.

And taken over a year their swingeing APR would mean it would cost a shocking £2,107.

As for Newcastle’s lowest priced season ticket renewal at £373, borrowed over 30 days, that comes to £490 and over a year, an eye-watering £15,718. It’s called taking your eyes out.

Wearsiders may well be mocking the Wonga connection, but you know who is having the last laugh here ...

Campaign is the Pitts

FOR the first time in its 91-year history, Chanel No. 5 is being endorsed by a male celebrity.

And Brad Pitt, 46, has reportedly netted £4.32million to turn us all on, starting with teaser shots of the advertising campaign, due to hit the glossies in the November issues.

And although we don’t get to see Pitt in action in the teaser video, we do get a mysterious recording of him whispering “ Do you feel lucky? Why?.” This vocal snippet is set against a still of Pitt’s shirted upper back and the back of his head, an image topped with the No.5 logo and in another video the Hollywood star asks “ What’s the mystery?.” “Are you going somewhere?,” then “Where?.”

The very question I bet Coco Chanel would be asking if she were around today. Not of Pitt.

But of those promoting her iconic whiff which was the only thing Marilyn Monroe ever wore to bed.

Time to put the pyjamas to bed

IT’S the last day to celebrate national pyjama week. If only it were.

Here in Sunderland mams of a certain shade – that’s beyond the pale – and their offspring, need no encouragement to wear their pjs to school or the shops any time any day.

Apparently all week, kids across the country have been wearing their jim jams to school and nursery, donating £2 for the privilege to The Children’s Trust.

How about a no pyjama week? Though my mind boggles at what some shameless so and sos would turn out in when they roll out of bed – maybe the altogether ...

M&S camera ban is outrageous

LET’S see short shrift to this ridiculous ruling with M&S banning a pal from snapping on his mobile phone a tin of shortbread in the Newcastle store.

The reason given was security to prevent anyone from taking pictures of where the CCTV cameras are sited.

He’s no career criminal, just someone casing out which tin to send to friends abroad for Christmas. And how is such a ruling going to deter the light fingered?

It’s something to chew over.

I’m staying put

I’VE heard some rumours in my time, but nothing could be further from the truth that I will be penning this feature from somewhere else in the country.

Like the rest of the team in the Echo newsroom, we will be scribbling at Pennywell and will always be in the heart of the city and here for you.

The Axe: The Colling hitlist

LET the axe fall on liquid nitrogen cocktails. They should be banned for all time, given one nearly killed teenager Gaby Scanlon who had her stomach removed after downing the Nitro Jagermeister on a night out with pals while celebrating her 18th birthday.

It’s unbelievable that in these obsessional times of health and safety rulings, such a lethal cocktail could be on sale.

Now sales have been suspended at Oscar’s Wine Bar and Bistro in Lancaster since this horrific episode last Thursday night.

The bar wants closing down. And how many others are irresponsibly selling such cocktails which subjected this girl’s organs to near-fatal frostbite?

She was rushed to hospital where doctors found her stomach had perforated and performed emergency surgery to save her life.

We all know teenage girls out for a night on the town, the tipsier they get often the more reckless they can be.

But it is the height of recklessness to expose anyone to a drink that can do this.

As John Ashton, NHS Cumbria’s Director of Public Health, said: “ We have had the celebrity chefs using liquid nitrogen to make confections with meringues and ice cream and so on. But there the gas is all evaporated by the time you ingest it.

“Bars and pubs are not chemistry labs. Liquid nitrogen is very dangerous if used improperly.”

That truth this poor girl will know to her cost all her days. It’s was a life-changing night out. And no-one else should ever be at risk as unwittingly as Gaby was, who so innocently nearly drank herself to death because such a dangerous substance was on sale in licensed premises.