Tony Gillan: Sunderland fans are searching for a scapegoat - but who is to blame?

Occasionally I use public transport. No kidding. Saturday was one such occasion.

Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 2:10 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th November 2019, 10:32 am

I listened to the pre-match predictions of my fellow passengers before the Coventry game. It was like travelling in a hearse, only with less levity and repartee.

One bloke said: “They reckon at work that we’ll get beat three nowt.”

Wherever he works, their collective opinion is evidently to be taken seriously.

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A second bloke opined: “They’ll be lucky if it’s only three.”

The misery began to take on a competitive element when a third bloke chipped in with: “They’ll be lucky to get the nowt.”

I’m not even convinced that he was joking. Certainly no one smiled, as though it was somehow possible for Sunderland to end the game (which they were all attending with the theoretical aim of pleasure) on minus goals.

I suspect that sharing their protracted list of gloom and grievances was the nearest they had come to an adrenaline rush in several years.

Talk then moved seamlessly on to: they won’t have a shot on target, no one will turn up, Coventry will be laughing at us and so on.

When we alighted close to the Colliery Tavern, I was fortunate enough to notice a large and deep puddle before I could plant my foot into it. Others were less fortunate.

The puddle was in turns blamed on the club, the council, the government, the EU, Brexit and Will Grigg; all of whom might feel a little harshly. Strangely, it was only the weather which escaped culpability.

It was a thoroughly desolate bus journey.

I rather enjoyed it and went back on the same bus for a second helping before the Burton Albion game last night and was no less amused.

The despondency is well founded. But who’s to blame (for the football, not the puddle)?

I could compile a lengthy list of people who deserve a share of blame, some of whom left the club years ago.

But I’m not going to. It would be pointless, unhealthy and you could end up blaming Alan Brown for not signing Don Kitchenbrand earlier when Sunderland were relegated in 1958.

When things go badly, as they undoubtedly are, people become angry and look for scapegoats. No goat is safe from a good scaping.

We can’t hurl our ire at those who aren’t there. Perhaps this is why before Sunderland equalised against Coventry I heard someone bitterly and sincerely claiming that the players were playing to get the manager (of five weeks) sacked.

But the truth is simpler. The players who are performing badly are doing so because they are either out of form – or weren’t that good in the first place. They won’t WANT to play badly.

Players who “want away” are more likely to achieve this by performing well.

Similarly, any mistakes made by the current board have been honest ones. The alleged money making agenda of the owners has so far only yielded them a further £10million worth of debt.

Of course, Stewart Donald and co. want to make the club they own as valuable as possible. This is something they share with ... every club owner in the history of football.

So let’s just concentrate on the next move.

Conspiracy theories are always intriguing, so it’s a pity that they’re never true.

Saturday was yet another grim one. Rarely can Sunderland have played so badly without losing.

Their opponents really ought to have won and it was very much in the oh-well-a-point’s-a-point category.

The peculiar, unreciprocated obsession that Coventry City supporters have with Sunderland saw a decent turnout in the away enclosure.

Following events too distasteful to recall last April, the visitors had their allocation reduced to 1,500 – which they failed to sell.

Still, 1,424 was a respectable number of visiting fans, especially in this weather: and their conduct was grace itself compared to last time.

On the field, unlike certain other teams, they didn’t set new records for time wasting and their goal scorer didn’t goad the home supporters. Praise too to their manager, Mark Robins, who gave an honest post-match appraisal.

I have to be careful what I say about Coventry. Last season I didn’t write about the club with the encomium their supporters felt they were entitled.

Word got back to the West Midlands and I was sent some remarkably thin-skinned responses from their fans; some of whom had even read the article.

I mentioned that their support rarely attains the level we might expect from a one-club city with a population of 366,800.

Therefore it was reasonable to surmise that the 2,683 who turned up at the Stadium of Light last season, was only so (comparatively) high because they were giddily excited about playing there.

Some of the correspondence I received was outraged to the point of irrationality. I hadn’t tried to antagonise them. It’s just that I did.

Counter-arguments, such as they were, have fallen even flatter this season. Their average home attendance this season is 5,924.

The low figure is compounded because they have been forced to play at St Andrew’s in Birmingham and it takes 30 whole minutes to get there.

Coventry have a decent team (it’s difficult to convincingly claim that Sunderland are better). They also have a good manager. Credit too to their fans who actually attend.

However, in a complete reversal of the situation on Wearside, the team deserves better support.