Four or five years ago, Gary Bennett and I were coaching children in Sunderland.

A gloriously hot summers day in July was interrupted by an almost biblical downpour and, in wishing to protect our young charges, we took shelter in the changing rooms.

While we temporarily became amateur meteorologists, wondering when the clouds would disperse and allow us to resume our activities, I seized upon the delay to engage in some market research. Well, Mackem research to be more precise.

I had suspected for some time that Sunderland, as a club, was partly haemorrhaging a future fan base. That the adult attendees at the Stadium of Light, when robots are making your bed each morning, may have dwindled somewhat in comparison to now and years gone by.

This was my chance, even if my sample size was hardly comparable to the seasoned campaigners of Mori, Gallup et al. Aware of the age, and conscious of the impressionable minds of my audience, I realised that limiting the questions, and answers, may not inform as fully as hoped. As a result, I extended it by simply inquiring who each of the aspiring footballers supported at that stage of their young lives.

About a half, roughly 12, said they were Sunderland fans. For some that may be a disappointing return. The others transcended the English game, predictably going between Manchester, Liverpool and London.

To probe further I asked who they would support if Sunderland were up against their Premier League preference - the majority implying their devotion elsewhere was no passing fad based on silverware or success. I then thought to ask who the primary footballing influences in their lives - father, mother, family etc – supported. The overwhelming majority indicated Sunderland.

We Are Sunderland: Are Sunderland at risk of losing a generation of supporters?Are Sunderland at risk of losing a generation of supporters? (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Now, of course, things can change, and several visits to the Stadium of Light, or extra parental pressure, may suffice for the colours of a scarf or badge of a strip to change. But, nevertheless, it does point to the possibility of some within a generation, at the very least, having what seems an organic football inheritance being diluted by the inability of the club to compete in a meaningful manner.

Even my own son, with the atmosphere built up, aligned with his love of football, has become indifferent after going to the Stadium of Light on several occasions and never having witnessed a home victory. And this without an opposition fielding anything remotely resembling a household name.




Sunderland cling onto the perception of being a big club based on the quantity and quality of their support. With a team that often meanders through various stages of mediocrity and exchanges divisions almost as frequently as its strips, the powers that be simply cannot afford to assume that schoolchildren with an SR postcode are the future customer base.

So many within this demographic succumb to 21st century persuasion; a ‘FIFA’ generation whose visit to the Stadium of Light comes through an Xbox without leaving the bedroom and won’t be persuaded to swap the virtual for the physical through promises of ‘enhanced match day experiences’ or WiFi that is the envy of the tech world.

In team-less towns and cities, the vista of endless strips with a superstar name on the back is just about understandable. In Sunderland, it borders on unforgivable.