When Sunderland fans consortium, the Fulwell73 Group, pulled out of their recent highly publicised takeover bid, they released a statement to the slightly bemused national press proclaiming that Sunderland “rightly deserve their reputation as the best fans in the world.”
And who are we at true faith to argue with such a modest and not in the least bit deluded or arrogant claim?
So given the self-proclamation that Sunderland have the “best fans in the world”, you’d probably expect the vast majority of them to stick by their club following a relegation? “Sunderland til we die” is, I think, the chant.
Well let’s put that claim to the test. Let’s examine how loyal Sunderland fans have been following relegations during this millennium. And how do they compare to Newcastle?
Ok, let’s start with the Region’s latest relegation. I do believe that was Sunderland!
Sunderland went down with an average attendance of 41,287. Despite the evidence of free tickets to artificially boos
attendances, it would be churlish of us not to recognise that this was an admirable effort by Sunderland fans to back their struggling side. Indeed it was the 7th highest in the Premier League.
Fast forward to this season and SAFC’s average attendance after 4 home games stands at 29,104. This is a drop of 12,183 or 30% from last season! In a ground that holds 48k, the presence of nearly 20k empty seats is somewhat noticeable. Sunderland now lags behind Leeds and Aston Villa in terms of average attendances.
Context, of course, is everything. We are constantly told by tearful Mackems and sycophantic journalists that the drop in crowds is ‘understandable’.
Craig Johns at The Chronicle takes up the story “The number of empty seats at the Stadium of Light has been a cause for derision this season from rival fans, but it really ought not to be. For what those supporters at that club have been through, it’s a miracle they still get over 20,000. Talk about true love and passion.”
So what exactly have they “been through”? An unprecedented run of ten consecutive seasons in the top flight? One of the highest net spends in Europe over that period? A Wembley cup final? A series of high profile managers and players? A relatively new stadium? Despite the relegation battles, I’d suggest that this is the first really difficult season that they’ve “been through” in a decade.
So let’s compare with Newcastle United’s relegation in 2015/16 where they averaged 49,754 which is a world record for a relegated club (er, probably). Bob Murray once famously said that Sunderland was more important to their fans than Newcastle were to theirs. But despite this lack of importance to the fans, astonishingly, Newcastle actually increased their average attendance in the 2nd flight to 51,106.
And whilst Sunderland fans may point out that they’re only four home games into the season and that they’ve hardly set the Championship on fire, remember that United lost their first two games of the season but still packed out St James’ in the games following.
“Context” shouts the neutral observer. Rafa Benitez had generated a feel good factor at the club and spent £50m in the transfer market following relegation. But the reality of course is that the club was still owned by the despised Ashley regime and made a whopping £30m profit in the summer. If Newcastle United fans had deserted the club last season then presumably it would have been equally ‘understandable’. They didn’t.
And let’s not forget that Newcastle United fans had suffered a previous relegation only relatively recently before in 2008/9. And there certainly was no feel good factor around the club then. They were a laughing stock.
An owner trying to sell the club but absolutely no interest other than a few comedy bids from SAFC fans (remember those?). The sale of any player with any value (they would have sold Andy Carroll for £1m if they’d received a bid). And starting the season without a permanent manager or a fit striker!
In other words United was in a similar, if not worse, mess than Sunderland is now. They averaged 48,750 in their relegation season which reduced to 43,388. This was a drop of 5,362 or 11%. That average was still the 4th highest in England and one of the 20 highest in Europe despite the 2nd flight status.
But despite this, the national press were still not impressed. I seem to remember a particularly scathing article in the Daily Express about how this 11% drop proved how fickle United supporters were!
Working chronologically backwards, next up was Sunderland’s relegation in 2005/6 with an average attendance of 33,904. Enter Niall Quinn on his magic carpet, the Drumaville Consortium revolution, smiling Roy Keane and the start of the huge spending which has culminated in the financial mess they find themselves in now. Promotion follows with a respectable average attendance of 31,887. A drop of only 2,017 or 6%.
However not quite as respectable was the drop in attendance following the previous relegation in 2003. Sunderland’s average reduced from 39,698 to 27,130, a drop of 12,568 or 32%. Indeed, a similar drop to this season for Sunderland.
The drop looks even worse compared to the previous season, 2002, when Sunderland averaged 46,744. In just two years, they haemorrhaged nearly 20k or 42% of their fan base.
Has any club in the world ever lost so many fans in such a short period of time? My, ahem, extensive research certainly hasn’t unearthed any.
Which takes us back to the start of this article and the claims from the Sunderland consortium in the summer that they deserved their reputation as the “best fans in the world”.
Sorry chaps, I’m not sure where you’ve heard this (certainly not round here) but the facts would suggest that you aren’t the best fans in the world. You’re not even the best in Tyne and Wear. The evidence suggests that you are, in fact, the most fickle.
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