My first season ticket coincided with the opening of the Stadium of Light. I was six years old, had gorged on a final year at Roker Park and, to my dad’s undoubted relief, wanted to come back for more. So delightful was this particular moment that I saw fit to get dressed in Sunderland’s full home kit and stand in the middle of my grandad’s garden to get a snap with my pride and joy, holding the little book of tickets out in front of me much like a convict might hold a placard. This was a very different type of life sentence.
On Thursday afternoon, for the first time in 23 years, I opted not to renew that season ticket. The intervening period has taken in four relegations and three years of living 200 miles away from the Stadium of Light, yet not once had the thought of not renewing ever crossed my mind. I’ll doubtless be back once the doors are open again, whenever that may be, but the events of the past week – and, indeed, the past two years – brought me to that point.
I wasn’t the only one. Though we do not know exact figures, it is clear that the club has witnessed a mass exodus in the last fortnight unlike any in its history. That is a product of the extraordinary circumstances that have arisen from a worldwide pandemic, but it is also more than that. The mass desertion by loyal fans of our club is a sign that, finally, we’ve had enough.
It is not just the fault of Sunderland’s current ownership, though they should bear a significant proportion of the blame for their antics both this month and in the past. There is plenty of blame to go around and plenty of people to attribute it to. After years of loyalty, of following blindly even while being treated with contempt by those in charge, this is it. We’re sick.
To many, myself included, the renewal decision has caused deep internal conflict. After all, this is our club, isn’t it? We support through thin and thinner. If the club needs our money then, hey, just take it. Right?
But at this point in time it’s the people who own the club that need that money. It is them whom we’d be propping up. If they fail then, as it stands, we have a safety net.
The people in charge are not the club, not our club. They merely happen to own it at this point in time. Our club is me and you and my dad and your dad and his sister and their mam and their friends and mine and yours and everyone else who has donned a red and white top, listened on the wireless, logged into a patchy online stream, refused to holiday between August and May, spent God knows how much on following this stupid fucking team up and down the land without a second thought and done it because, really, winning doesn’t actually matter, not all that much, not as much as being part of something, of a community.
Our club is the people in the pub, before three and after five; the woman who booms ‘Lee Howey Lee Howey Lee Howey’ at every away game; the bloke in the North Stand who waves his prosthetic leg when we score; it’s George Forster and it’s George Johnson and it’s Bradley Lowery; it’s Pete the taxi driver and it’s Joan the chef; it’s Raich Carter and it’s Bobby Gurney; it’s Bobby Kerr and it’s Micky Horswill; it’s Gordon Armstrong and it’s Martin Smith; it’s Micky Gray and it’s Micky Bridges; it’s Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford; it’s George Honeyman and Grant Leadbitter; it’s all the local lads done good, all the ones who didn’t make it but still follow the scores every Saturday and some Tuesdays; it’s each and every one of us who’ve watched each and every one of them, shouted at them, cheered for them, soared the highs and plumbed the depths with them.
What our club isn’t is the complete dismissal of concerns of lifelong fans following the appointment of a manager with questionable political views, just as it isn’t asking fans to choose between deserting their club and having to cheer a man accused of sexual activity with a minor. It isn’t paying over the odds to players who don’t want to be here, just as it isn’t trying to eke out every last penny from those people on which the club relies, treating them as mere customers rather than loyal followers. It isn’t calling people ‘parasites’ and it isn’t calling them, effectively, thick, just because they’ve had the temerity to question what the hell is going on.
It’s not two blokes from Oxford just like it wasn’t a billionaire from Texas before that and nor, unless they buy into the club emotionally, really buy in, really get it, nor will it be any other billionaires either. We aren’t exceptional just because we’re Sunderland – but Sunderland is exceptional, because Sunderland isn’t like anywhere else just like nowhere else is Sunderland.
And that’s why, amid the dismay and among the anger, Sunderland fans, myself included, are experiencing one thing above all else: heartbreak. This is the end of something, a rupture, a wound that really might never be healed.
A week or so ago, after the club’s ludicrous policy toward season card renewals had been unveiled, I put out a question on Twitter which asked those who have decided not to renew at this time two things: (a) how long had they been going to games for, and (b) how long had the owned a season ticket?
The response was as interesting as it was depressing. Though not exactly a comprehensive reflection of supporters by any stretch of the imagination – there were around 115 replies, a paltry number when set against the actual number of Sunderland supporters – it still highlighted the depth of feeling across the fan base. Plenty referenced non-tweeting family and friends who were dismayed; fans from all age demographics were represented. Some said they’d renew once football returned to normal; others said they wouldn’t be back until the current ownership had gone.
The nature of Twitter is that everything gets lost amid the din. If today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s chip paper, then the arrival of obsolescence has only been hastened by the immediacy of 24-hour social media feeds.
Therefore, to highlight the disconnect that now separates club and supporter like a great, gaping chasm, and for posterity, we have reproduced the responses here. Some have been tidied up a tad, others have had names removed where necessary. All tell a tale of heartbreak.
Lifelong fans are departing the club in their droves. Some will return, some won’t. If the club’s current owners continue to believe Sunderland AFC is best served by them remaining in situ, they need only look at the below.
This is their legacy.
1st match was 94 been a season card holder all bar 1 year since 97 and even then I still got a half season card for 03/04 season and only missed 3 games.
1st match 1996 as a 7 year old. Season ticket holder 22 years.
23 consecutive season tickets. 57 loyalty points.
Season Ticket/Card holder since 93.
Started going with my Dad 1988, had a season ticket since the SOL opened
1980- season ticket with my dad who is 72 and been going since 61 and season ticket since 65
1st match 92 ST 94 Just got daughter her 1st ST too Not going to renew, just cos there wont be football to go to. I cant afford to pay hundreds for something that doesn’t exist.
Been going since 84. Season ticket since 92. No break. Never thought the day would come where I would even think about not renewing.
Season ticket since 1994. Missed 3 home games in that time – league and cup. Been to over 250 away games in that time, as well as 2 pre season tours abroad. I won’t be back until they’ve gone
Me 21 years, my 2 oldest daughters 2 seasons. I’d probably have renewed had they not offered to hold seats and loyalty points (I have over 40) until fans are allowed back. Seems pointless renewing for a stream when Iptv has all I follow games and safc.
First match 1976. ST holder since the stadium opened. There’s six of us cancelled.
First game – October 1971 v Luton town – clubs a mess. Been this way for decades in reality and time someone credible ran the show. A farce. #donaldout
First match was 2006 (3 years old) and had a season ticket since 2008
14 years in total, with a 3 year break between after a career change where I worked Saturday, so couldn’t commit. Love going and would still continue to go, but simply don’t want to invest anymore money into the club while they are there.
Going regularly since 74/75 season and a season ticket since 87/88 season.
1st went in 1968, Regular since 73, Season ticket holder since 1990. Still waiting to see if the club have listened otherwise the DD is stopped.
24 years. I’ll renew when games are not behind closed doors.
I’ve been going to matches for 22 years and I’ve been a season ticket holder since the 03-04 season. Feels pretty awful not renewing, but I’m not funding the owner’s efforts to make a massive personal profit on the club; particularly after that appalling Q&A statement #SAFC
My earliest memories are of the 60s Stan Anderson / Charlie Hurley promotion team. I watched 1st from the Roker boys end, then from 72 onwards, from the Fulwell. I got my season ticket (clock stand seats) 88/89 season. I’ve had a season ticket continuously since. Until today.
Going since 1975 and ST holder since 1997
Can count on one hand how many home games I’ve missed, when I haven’t been on holiday (including all cups), since 2015.
Been going for 33 years. Had a Season Ticket for about 20 of those. 2 Season Cards in my house – If the club were going to refunded games that are behind closed doors, or if they agreed to not take the first payment until we knew more, we’d have renewed.
Since ’88 for me and my father. The two Wembley defeats and seeming acceptance of third tier gave us alarm bells. The noises from SD/CM didn’t sit right. Reluctantly decided’ game to game’ but got out of the habit. No way we’re tempted back with SD at the helm.
Been going 26 years had a season ticket probably 22/23 of those years. I want to renew absolutely no chance am I paying £310 for a streaming pass. Don’t even pay half that for skysports
31 years and had a season ticket all the way through pretty much including as a student and even kept it when I worked abroad for a couple of years. I’ll not be back under this regime.
1970 – 2020….never imagined I’d ever do it. sad times.
First game 78 Season tickets since 92
Since 83/84 3 cards in our house
Season ticket holder for 26 years.. basically from when I was working and I had a car that be able to get to games because travel from Ashington to Sunderland was a nightmare beforehand… not renewing under the current proposal, will do when games played in front of a crowd
1976 to 2019 RIP.
First match 1990 I was 7 year old rocker park clock stand season ticket at age of 10 with my dad , followed all over the country .. cancelled mine and my dads season ticket Wednesday after that barrel of shite came out I’m gutted but can’t put up with them clowns no longer !
First match was 1997 season ticket was not long after. Used to travel over 350 miles home every weekend for the games due to my job. Cancelled it after the article was released and won’t renew till they’re gone.
35 years going and at most times for over 20 years won’t go back as long as Donald and cronies are there
Been going 41 years season ticket as far back as i remember. Decided to not give them another penny after the removal of the 20 odd million from the club
Got season ticket in 2014 when I changed my job so no more Saturdays. But had been going to the odd few every season since my boy was 5
Been going for 31 years. Season tkts on and off since I was 15, currently myself and my 2 boys have season tkts. Cancelled my renewal and DD. Not giving these bandits another penny of my money. WE all need to chase these clowns out of our club #safc
First game 1970, season card since Roker probably nearly 30 years. Don’t want to cancel but no choice really can’t justify paying for 2 season cards to potentially sit watching 1 stream together
Season ticket since 1995, been going since 1988. Donald & Co don’t deserve our support.
Been going since 1984, had a season ticket for 20 of those years.
First game in 1995, went to a handful of games a season until getting a season ticket in 2003-4 the year we got relegated with the record low points…hasn’t got much better since
Going to the matches for 32 years, Season ticket for 25 years. Direct debit cancelled on Tuesday night ! Enough is enough !
28 years, 24 years as season ticket holder. I would have renewed even if the cowboys where still at the helm in normal circumstances, but I am not paying £320 for a stream you can normally get for £10 a game. #Donaldout #takingthepissoutoffans
Been going all of my life. Had a season ticket since 1990. Had a couple of years off after the 15 point season. Came back when Keano did. Not spending another penny on the club until they’ve gone.
Over 23 years, 60+ loyalty points, always home a fair few away for the last 15 years
Had a season ticket for 30 of the last 32 years, been going since the 80s
Been going since 1976. ST holder since early 80’s. I feel like a part of my soul has been ripped out
Been going since 1990 and had a season ticket since probably 94ish. Only missed two games at the stadium of light QPR at home in 98 and york city in the league cup. I missed the friendly at the start of the season too as I was in spain lol. Cant believe I might have to cancel
First game unsure. Early in 85/86 season. Never missed but not a ST holder until 95/96 as you couldn’t buy them for my wing of the MS paddock
24 years season ticket holder, going to matches since 1985. Current ST in Black Cats Bar. Really want to support and help SAFC but not due the current pisstaking and financial situation
My first season was 1982. Became SCH with my dad/late sister when McMenemy took charge . The only time I’ve seriously thought about not renewing was Simon Grayson’s time in charge, but X persuaded me! . Definitely not renewing/ returning under this regime #DonaldOut
First home match of 1958-59 season(our first ever season out of the top flight), got beat 1-2 off Fulham. We began to realise then that we weren’t going to bounce straight back. Had a season ticket for more years than I can remember.
Been going since 1972 and a season ticket holder since I left school in 1983. I’m not renewing under the current plans. If they change before the 11th then I’ll reconsider.
First match in 1987, went when we could through the early ‘90’s, and then I think I got bought my first season ticket for the 96/97 season. Give it up for only a couple of years while away at uni and then I reckon I must’ve had one again from 04/05 onwards. Gutted.
First game 1984 (aged 5) season ticket since 1990. Holding on renewing as I buy for me, my 3 sons and my nephew! 5 streaming passes is no good to me with no option of a refund!
25 year for me. Never thought I would do it
Started in 83, had a season ticket since 93… Now cancelled.
September 1969! Season ticket off and on but have had one for the last 15 years.
Season ticket / card holder since 1991/1992 season
Season ticket holder since Roker Park and had the same seat since we moved to the stadium. Watched #safc since the 70’s. I’ve reluctantly emailed to cancel my DD. I just can’t believe the club’s stance on refunds for next season. Sad day.
Started going to games in 1985, season ticket holder since 1994 and cancelled an hour ago #twats
Started going 69-70 season, season tickets 73,74ish until Laurie Mac. Started again after him until having a shop mid 90s. Started again 2005. Also 70s 80s home and away.
I’ve not been a season ticket/card holder, since 2009, but was previously a ST holder from 1992 to 2009. I’ve been going to watch The Lads for 48 years, & in all those years, never in my wildest dreams, did I ever imagine, we’d be plumbing such depths, as we are now. Deplorable !
Season card holder for around 20 years and will be cancelling my direct debit. Never thought I’d see the day.
Season ticket since Aug 1997, matches since 1993. Bad times but needs must
1994 Last 4 years as left forces so can go now.
Been season card holder since 1996 and missed two home games since. Went to a few games prior to 1996 SC, I will return payment wise when we can. No justification or incentive for fans to provide money to the club with not being allowed in the SOL. No fan should have to currently
81, season ticket 82. Apart from a few year in early 90’s when my 2 youngest were too young to take & hubby took eldest I’ve had ST. Eldest has had ST since he was 2, all 3 since SOL opened. None of us are renewing. Can’t justify all that money for a rubbish stream.
ST holder since 97. Struggling to find reason to leave my DD in tact? No sign of decent proposals for those renewing. It feels like merely a large charitable donation I’d much rather place elsewhere. The recent petulant ‘statements’ @SunderlandAFC have out have been a joke too.
Season ticket holder on and off since 1988. Won’t renew for me and my son until fans are allowed back. No way am I paying just to get a streaming pass. The club need us more than ever so they will eventually change further
13yrs and I’ve cancelled my 2 until we’re allowed back to the ground. Then I shall be getting them back
41 this month been going since the age of 5, season ticket every season bar 2, cancelled after the statement on Wednesday, they no longer care or worry about the impact of the damage that they are doing and need to go soonest
Been going since the end of the 86/87 season and had a season ticket since 1992. I don’t want to cancel my ticket, but the club have forced my hand with the rubbish they have came out with. I will renew when fans are allowed back into the games.
First game 1962, first season ticket 1967. Ever present apart from the McMenemy era, I stopped going the day we appointed him, went back when he left. I have cancelled my ST, hate Donald with a passion.
Not renewing. Regular since 80/81 season. Season ticket holder since 90/91 season. If these charlatans are still anywhere near the club I doubt I’ll be rushing back once the stadium lets fans in again either.
Been going since 1990 had season ticket since 1997. Final straw from Donald &co
Going for 46 years, season ticket for at least 28 years including a standing season ticket on the old 3rd Div. No more profit before people at my expense.
Going from 93 had season ticket since 96. Il be back once the go.
34 years a supporter. 28 years a season ticket holder. #DonaldOut
Started in 81 82 with my dad, season ticket holder from 92ish.
Attended since 1971. Had season ticket since 1989. The decision not to renew is not about the level or standard of football but rather the lack of plan/leadership from the club. When the owners pack up and go I’ll renew immediately
X used to sit me on the red bars in the Fulwell End, he bought me a season ticked since the 90’s and right through till I was able to go with friends, he still goes with his friends, today I’ve cancelled my direct debits to the club till we know what’s happening
1st match 1983 1st season ticket 1990 Cancelling my DD…will go back when able to attend games but not paying for streaming
First season 80/81 with my grandad and Uncle, gone every season, season tickets on and off since 1992 including the last 4 seasons of absolute misery.. Cancelled season ticket along with my son who’s 24 and been going since he was 4… Donald and his cronies out!!
ST holder since 1986 Will be cancelling unless there is a U turn and fast Such a poor showing from SAFC on this, they have finally lost the plot and any connection they had with the fans It’s not too late to fix it though ….
Been going to matches 20+ year, had a season ticket for 20. Cancelled Wednesday. Been through some shite but enough is enough with this one now
Season 88 was when my family started taking me regular as a 10 year old had season ticket for about 18 seasons across that had to give up a few times for work purposes.
Season tickets holder for 21 years. Hopefully back next season when these clowns have fucked off
23 year season ticket holder with my Dad. 100+ away days, both cancelled. I don’t even particularly mind the team being shite, But the tone and disregard of that support has tipped me over the edge. They can fuck off before I spend another £1.