Losing faith in sport: Are the privileged few contributing to the death of community football?

As a Sunderland supporter, I have not had much to crow about since 1973 but that’s football, you take the rough with the smooth as it were.

However, what concerns me in an age of the reducing of the community standing in sport and the reliance on money, profit and vast investment in a small number of clubs at the expense of the grassroots game is the slowly seeping hatred one team’s fans for another.

Listening to the crass comments of Manchester United fans on Radio 5 Live who would rather see their team lose to their arch-rivals rather than let Liverpool win the championship smacks of something amiss in the moral code of sport.

As a youngster, I had a mate who hated football. His dad was a Newcastle United supporter and I would go alternate weeks to watch Sunderland and Newcastle as I loved football, what was then the beautiful game.

Don’t get me wrong, there was as much, if not more corruption around in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but cheering Newcastle through a Fairs Cup winning season and Sunderland through an FA Cup winning season in close proximity was great fun never to be repeated but hey, that’s life.

Even now I look to see how the Magpies are doing and hope that they don’t get relegated as there is nothing better than a North East derby match in the Premiership. But I would not wish them the indignity of ending up where we have for the sake of rekindling the tingle down the spine caused by the pre and during activities of that amazing occasion.

However, today as I listen to the wall to wall sport on Radio 5 Live and the sometimes inane comments of pundits, some of whom cannot even string a sentence together, I start to lose interest.

Teams spend obscene amounts of money on players, pay off’s to inept managers and TV snaps up the rights to screen often boring and rarely community focused matches, as the man and woman in the street are forced to pay ever increasing prices to watch what in essence is 22 players kicking a ball around a park for 90 minutes.

There once hallowed community experience has been overtaken by the exotic, the half time razzle dazzle and the Brexit breaking draw of the stadium.

It is no wonder that the EFL games are drawing as many people as they did in 1958 because here you have action, and clogging, none of your roll about on the floor antics and real passion from often a few thousand supporters who’s expectations may be low but their passions are high.

I look at my Sunderland T-shirt which states Sunderland 3rd Division, Unknown Pleasures with the Joy Division album emblazoned on the front and think, yes, I would rather be here with the passionate, never knowing what will happen, always expecting to be short-changed by a team that I never dreamed we would be playing in the lower reaches of the leagues. But I am able to hold my head up high and saying football is football and no matter where I am or whatever ground I go to in the lower divisions I can have a laugh and not take it all too seriously.

I look back with fondness at days when Niall Quinn gave his testimonial year earnings to pay for a cancer unit or when Sunderland fans raised money for Newcastle fans killed in a disaster.

This is about our extended community, our football and often about a tongue in cheek wish for your team across the divide losing. I find it incredulous today how much the result affects some of the fans, it is only a game.

It is time for someone to say enough, spread the money a little more evenly and stop football becoming one of two horse race.

The more saddening fact is that Sunderland was taken down by two inept and at times barking mad Chairmen and some weird and wonderful transfers. The greed of the few just shows how the game needs a serious overhaul.

The Bolton scenario must never happen again and if you look at all of the teams once in the old four divisions that now no longer exist or work on a part-time basis it must break the hearts of those in these communities that continue to suffer from what has been written on the wall for years.

Just think how many new hospitals could be built from the combined transfer deals and wages of the 20 teams in the premiership.

I dread to think how many lives could have been saved if the money was put into the NHS. Just food for thought as no one will pay a blind bit of notice, but hey, we have come to accept that, this is life.

#communityfootball #losingfaithinsport #sunderlandfc #moneyinfootball #EFL