Invaders Must Die
Under the guise of a covert mission, two of us (one home fan and one away) recently decided to take it upon ourselves and deal with the dark forces currently at work, in and around the Stadium of Light. No we weren`t trying to locate Steed Malbranque`s secret stash of 20 Marlboro, nor were we out to seek the suspect lubricant grooming product, which sends slick Lorik Cana, crazy with anger, every time the skipper crosses that while line. We were of course on an undercover assignment, to highlight the jobsworth, blond hair and blue eye syndrome of the one and only SAFC 'bluecoat` match day steward.
Ever since the days of the so called 'caring club` in the late eighties, have Sunderland always managed to create a PR behemoth, between themselves and the fans. Recollections of semi-final ticket fiasco in 1992, still run deep for those with long memories, as match day stewards were seen walking around old Roker Park with bundles of 'company` tickets, whilst the average supporter sweated it out in line - many overnight, in a bid to see the lads turn out at Hillsborough, Sheffield.
Needless to say, the transformation to the SOL, only upped the ante with the health and safety minefield, we all enjoy at our places of work. The club, never one to do things by halves, off the pitch, have always managed to ratchet up that one notch further than most football clubs, with overzealous stewardship, further adding totalitarian rule with the introduction of specialist blue coat troops, designed to combat the most hardcore of thugs, daring to bring in their own home made banners or worse, their own Bovril flask, full to the brim of the brown stuff. I recall on one occasion in the early naughties, a game versus Manchester City, when the likes of Don Hutchison, wore the red and white cloth and scrapped it out with the best of them in the centre of the park. A passionate game, enticed this most passionate of crowds, fuelled by drink, I joined in with the near nuclear like fallout of biting tackles, even at one stage slotting a two fingered salute to the away contingent, as did forty eight thousand others. Yet I was singled out by big brother in the stands and an army of steward ants crawled from their hiding nest in the concourses, to issue me with a yellow card, my name and season ticket number taken for daring to join in with these peasants around me, thus potentially creating a volatile scene, entirely out of their own doing.
Over time, the enlightened hierarchy at SAFC, seemed to encourage such finger waving, often resulting in innocent followers of football, subjected to banishment from the arena, or worse, time spent in our ever handy own prison cells, located under the South Stand. And now the South West Corner of the West stand (also known as the New Roker Crazy Corner, rejoicing the legend that was the Main Stand, Roker End wing) which houses the new generation of daft lads are often the easy target of the Health and Safety Advisory Groups` foot soldiers, which leads us to the top secret mission in question.
Several reports have filtered through of quite frankly silly behaviour on behalf of both fans and stewards winding each party up. Whilst we do not condone hooligans or threatening behaviour in any walks of life on one hand, neither do we sympathise with zero tolerance law enforcement, devoid of any logic and so the mission had to reflect this. We would merely be acting out routine human behaviour, often witnessed at a game of football for both sets of fans.
Phase One - The Two Fingered Salute
Considered in some quarters to be an insult and often when done in front of a policeman on a Saturday night, after the instigator has been drinking the devil`s soup, can frequently find themselves peering through bars for the remainder of the evening. However, at a football game, it is a form of visual banter, often a knee jerk reaction, mainly provoked by matters on the pitch be it of the referee, players or fans. It is not though a sending off offence for a spectator and considered acceptable at a ground.
We tried this form of banter on numerous occasions, with a few shady looks in our direction, blue coats on coiled springs, armed with pepper spray and mace no doubt. Phase One then was considered a success for the modern football fan. Without pushing boundaries, we gestured with two fingers, very often towards the man in the middle, from both the away and home ends, with no comeback from the feds.
Result: Success for the common people.
Phase Two - Match day Banter
Now fully confident and cocky to boot, we felt we were on a roll, both unstoppable and untouchable and so let the banter commence. Wrong. I could see the haze of blue down below pitch side becoming restless and frustrated at no catch of criminals just yet. We were both sat in tactical locations, both near enough, to use raised voices in an attempt to mimic each other`s ilk of fans. It was nothing offensive and general light hearted exchanges, but within ten minutes of us starting, I received the first word of warning of the night. 'Sit down there son and watch the game eh?` came the advice from a stray yellow jacket, coaxed into bluecoat territory, by the little Hitler`s themselves, in attempt to ambush the situation should I become volatile to his advances.
I did as I was told, after all we weren`t here to cause trouble, only to simulate potential hostile situations the best we could. The remainder of the game was had, with sporadic exchanges of verbal diarrhoea, without intervention, a moderate success then, yet your average fan was disturbed, when only trading finest bits of crack without expletives, which had the victim been slightly more aggrieved than I was at being told to shut up, could have resulted in the first ejection and match bonus payment for the bluecoats that night.
Result: Moderate Success.
Phase Three - Visual Management
Slightly taken aback by the mild voice of the yellow jacket, we proceeded onwards and upwards, now pushing the boat out. It was now half time and we both had a banner each to unfurl, next to the playing surface. Sam, who was sat in the visitors` section, had no problem with his club crest, which could not be said of my 'FTM` banner, dangling over some advert hoardings. A mere five minutes had passed, sipping on my Bovril, when strangely enough; another yellow jacket came over, perhaps prompted by a blue coat barking orders. We`d have to take the work of art down, as one, it was covering the vitally important advertising signs, which had been paid for in good faith and were worth ten season tickets of average fans, so our needs come second and two it was relaying an offensive slogan. 'What Follow the Mackems?` I ask with tongue in cheek. 'You know what it means!` came the response. Still it bore no swear words and harmed no one, yet it was one step too far, we had overstepped the mark and were lucky not to be taken away and shot.
Phase Four - Stand Up If You Hate The Mags
We`d heard on the grapevine that the little blue fuehrer`s favourite pastime was that of ejecting fans for persistent standing, often at times of a goal, when others around were busy celebrating, the victims would be hauled away, with the celebrations leaving people in the area none the wiser. Our game in question, did not allow for this opportunity, but this would not deter us from gathering results. For the first time ever, I managed to start a chant (even all those days spent in the cage at the back of the Fulwell End proved fruitless in this quest) with the obvious ditty about hating them lot up the road and standing as you proved it, the preferred tune to achieve maximum effect.
It worked a treat, the whole section rising as one, causing a cry of action stations below, as a flurry of activity in the colour of blue, headed our way. The choir versus the law and needless to say the law went and won, imposing their strict orders out, concentration camp style - should anyone resist, single them out with a flashlight and spray them with machine gun bullets. The choir was sent crashing to its seats, resulting in no more songs, no more fun, causing a detrimental effect to the team we were all here to support in the first place. Sam commented that they fared no better in the cheap seats, watched like hawks should they dare to stand up, if were not to buy refreshments or go for a piss, with a few taken outside to have a think about their actions for 90 minutes.
Result: Failure - where has the fun gone in football?
Conclusion: Further evidence was required to fight this evil, slowly spreading like a disease on our terraces of disquiet, although these initial probes do not bode well for the future, not as long as the bluecoats live by the notion that invaders must die.
Words: Malcolm Robinson
Collaborator: Sam H. Rosenthal
Read more of Sam`s projects at: Fear and Loathing Site