David Preece: EVERYONE at Sunderland should have shown appreciation to fans

Empty seats at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Empty seats at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
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The words echoed around the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon: ‘At least we’ll win a few more games next season’.

But as everyone nodded along in agreement, I could only think ‘Will we, though?’.

Dropping down a level, you’d like to think we could widen the wins column in the table enough to make room for double figures but what evidence is actually there for us to fill us with optimism?

The squad, at first team level anyway, will be decimated by expiration of contracts, the inevitable transfer requests and the returning of loan players to their home clubs.

What the starting XI will look like come August the 8th is anyone’s guess and that’s why this summer could prove to be a pivotal one with regards to the club’s future. When I say it could be the biggest summer in the club’s history, I mean it.

As for this season, as the whistle blew on the final home game, the scene was a sorry sight. I counted eight players walk into the centre of the pitch and half-heartedly clap the few fans who had remained to show their appreciation to the players.

Eight figures unsure what to do. But they shouldn’t have been.

Regardless of the situation, of the atmosphere within the stadium that day, I couldn’t help feel that everyone at the club deserved better than this. The fans and everyone associated with the club deserved more than the pitiful excuse of a quick getaway to avoid any further conflict.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this city needs its club.

It needs that relationship between the club and its people and everything should be done to maintain it, through thick and thin.

Look, I know what it’s like to be in that position at the end of a season that has gone pear-shaped. I’ve been part of teams who have had difficult seasons and the last thing you want to do that is take that final lap of the pitch. There’s a sense of extreme embarrassment. You just want to get back in that dressing room, go on holiday, press the reset button and start getting on with preparation for the next season.

But you know deep down it’s something you have to do. It’s the right thing to do. You know it’s the very least the fans deserve in return for what they have been put through emotionally that season.

So off you set, trudging around the pitch, head bowed, and you know what happens then? You see fans who despite it all, will clap you and console you.

You see little kids, innocent and unaffected by the turmoil that season has brought. All they see are their heroes, the players they want to be when they grow up. They shout your name, desperately hoping you’ll come over and say hello or even give out a few high-fives.

This encourages you to stop your self pity and walk over to them - and you see their faces light up. Their voices getting more frantic the closer you get, shouting your name louder. As you high-five them they beg you for your shirt, so you pull it over your head, hand it over to them and ruffle their hair. They’re beside themselves.

They turn to their mam and dad, disbelieving they’ve managed to get your top. They’ll cherish that top. They’ll sleep it in that night. Their mum will tell them she’ll have to wash it first before they can wear it because it’s dirty, but they won’t hear a word of it.

Sure there’ll be other fans there who will give you stick, but most of it is more than deserved so you take it on the chin. In reality, it’s always far less vociferous than you feared anyway and those fans who do clap you off in to the sunset far outweigh those who tell it to you straight.

Even those who are most vocal in their discontent will give you more respect by fronting up to them and holding your hands up that, as a collective, you haven’t been good enough. An apology here and there wouldn’t go amiss either. It’s a chance to offer an olive branch. A small part of the healing process, some reconciliation so everyone at the club can go in to next season less divided.

The fact many of the players there won’t be there on next season is immaterial. I just think it would’ve been a smarter move by the club to usher every single player and member of staff back out on the pitch, no matter how many people stayed behind.

It’s about mutual respect and togetherness. When the season has been as tough as this one for everybody at the club, it’s all you have.

On the flip side of that, although I do understand to a certain extent those who did leave early, I was disappointed by the number of fans who remained in the stadium after the game, for no other reason than to say goodbye to Jermain Defoe.

It was him I had reserved my sympathy for. If there was one player who deserved his final memory of the SoL to be one worth savouring, it was Jermain.

What he has done for this club, the city and Bradley Lowery goes beyond football and that should have been celebrated on Saturday. What should have been a mutual showing of thanks ended up being unforgettable, anti-climactic at best.

As I walked down the steps of the West Stand, there was a commotion below as Vito Mannone handed his jersey to the crowd and a tug-of-war wrestling match ensued between a man and a woman. Going on for far longer than it should have between two grown adults, it dragged out to a cringeworthy climax as stewards and police stepped in to diffuse the situation.

Somehow, it seemed an apt end to the last 10 months but I guess seeing some fight at the Stadium of Light made a bit of a change for once.