Roker's fear and loathing

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The Independent Online
Fan's Eye View : No.97 Sunderland There must be a line in the Bible that applies to Sunderland. Something to do with feasting from scraps. Right now we're gorging ourselves on stories from Newcastle of 10-inch high Andy Cole thigh tattoos and tragically mistimed baptisms ("I christen you Sarah Andy Cole Smith..."). Actually we're making most of these stories up to dull the pain of our own team's malaise.

At Roker every rusty lining's currently got a cumulo-nimbus stacked on top of it. Cole goes, Collymore will arrive and I'll have to dump him from my Fantasy team; we buy Steve Agnew, the manager really wanted Kevin Richardson; the thrill of a forthcominghome Cup tie against Spurs is deflated by Saturday's home defeat by Notts County.

Generally you try not to speak about your club, your players. Instead you wait for others - Newcastle - to stumble. Supporting Sunderland has become little more than a petty loathing of The Mags. But what else can you do? We can't sing: "Sack the board,"because the board is waiting to be sacked. Only no one wants to take over. We can't sing: "We're by far the greatest team", because we're not and irony has run its course. We can't rip up our season tickets because, Goddammit, how else are we to see Notts County at home?

And there lies the biggest indictment of the club: the fact that, in our obscene thousands, we turn up every Saturday. It is widely accepted that Sunderland's greatest success story is its marketing team. Vigorous work in the local schools, concession days for OAPs and the unemployed and a ludicrous, converted double-decker bus that can be hired out for birthdays have ensured that the name Sunderland FC remains in the collective consciousness. And so, despite only two home wins all season, nearly 20,000turned up at Roker to watch Bolton on Boxing Day. Do Blackburn get that many?

Each year the club wins prizes for its marketing strategies, its community spirit, its something-or-other fluffy and jolly but it can't win blasted games of football.

And yet in the marketing office they know we'll still trot in. They knew for sure that, having beaten Carlisle in the FA Cup third-round replay, Roker would be buzzing for bottom-of-the-table Notts County, buzzing on a tide of misplaced expectation. We buzzed for five minutes and then County went one up.

I've just this morning watched, again, my video Sunderland - 100 Fabulous Years in the Football League, a marketing masterpiece. I fast forwarded, as ever, to two places: the 1973 Cup run and the 1990 victory over Newcastle in the play-offs. That victoryover Newcastle is considered to be the most important game the two clubs have played against each other. And yet five years on what does it really count for? Certainly it has never been truly revenged in a head-on confrontation but whose position would you rather be in now? Still, those clips of famous victories did the trick - who cares we've got no board, who cares we've got no team, who cares we've got precious little hope. After all, 1973's not so long ago; 1990 was just yesterday.

As with the England cricket team you only need one blip of euphoria to forget instantly the usual dross. With Sunderland that blip is unlikely to come on the pitch. So, like sexual inadequates, we turn to videos. We also turn to the whiff of panic that hangs over the sale of Cole, the possibility that his replacement will start slowly, get picked on and Keegan's judgement will be questioned. To be honest, we're relying on another tide of misplaced expectation. Jurgen Klinsmann? Bah! Andy Melville will have him for dinner.

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