Wise Men Say: Sunderland fans show their strength again - but is the pressure starting to tell?

Given that American sociologist Robert K Merton is unlikely to have stood on the terraces of the Fulwell End or set foot in an SR postcode, his coined term, ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ has proven to be eerily accurate in terms of describing the life of a Sunderland fan.

Friday, 9th August 2019, 12:45 pm
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In basic terms, self-fulfilling prophecy describes the idea that if we predict something will happen, the chances are it will come true because we believe it will, therefore interpreting any potential outcome as proof of our initial prediction coming true.

We see this all the time, in football terms, if we’ve heard that a new signing has good distribution, then it is likely that we will use the first five-yard square pass as evidence of this. Conversely, if you are of the opinion that a player is lazy, then the fact he hasn’t ran 60 yards to close down the opposition goalkeeper will reaffirm this view in your mind.

Of course, I have been flippant with my examples so far and in a light hearted context there is nothing wrong with a bit of confirmation bias.

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However, Jack Ross has recently fallen into the trap of creating his own self-fulfilling prophecy with regards to Sunderland supporters. After a disappointing opening day draw against Oxford he made reference to the difference between the perception of where Sunderland should be and the reality of where we are as a club.

This is a stark contrast to his position last season where he boldly claimed that if he didn’t guide Sunderland back to the Premier League during his time at the club, he would consider his time here a failure.

I remember this being music to my ears at the time, because it was so atypical of the rhetoric that Sunderland managers of the past have given. Therefore it is slightly disappointing to hear Ross talk about disproportionate expectations being on the shoulders of the players.

He is far from alone in blaming the expectation and pressure from the fans, whenever a manager takes over it’s one of the first questions he gets fed at his press conferences.

Even when we were in the Premier League, we were criticised for not being happy with getting beat every week and were accused of abandoning our club when attendances dropped in The Championship.

Meanwhile, Newcastle fans are treated as heroic warriors for snapping season cards in half because a manager chose to leave them and the manager has just broke their transfer record for a second time in recent months.

It is true that Sunderland fans are demanding to a certain degree, but we are currently experiencing a unique combination of circumstances. We are currently playing third tier football in consecutive seasons for the first time in our history and in the 23 years that preceded our relegation in 2018, we haven't finished lower than third in The Championship in 22 years.

Despite this, there were over 33,000 fans at the Stadium of Light for the season opener, set against the backdrop of another impressive Roker End display.

Fans on social media may make rash comments, but inside the Stadium of Light we have seen nothing but support for the lads on the pitch.

It cannot be healthy for players to constantly be told that the home fans are tough to play in front of and it creates a culture of excuses. If we are to succeed this season we must reverse this self-fulfilling prophecy, we must emphasise what an inspiring place the Stadium of Light can be to play and the players can feed of it.