Do Sunderland Owe Their Fans A Debt?

Last weekend, Sunderland travelled St Mary’s Stadium for a Premier League game against Southampton. For the Sunderland fans that made the 320+ mile journey, they were treated to a ‘Sunday League’ level performance by their side as they lost by an embarrassing 8-0. The defeat was so bad it has led to many pundits asking for The Black Cats first team players and coaches to reimburse their travelling fans for their abysmal performance. Isn’t the great football display by Southampton enough to justify some of the ticket price? Is winning now a prerequisite for ‘beautiful football’?

Surely fans want more than just winning games, they want trophies. The last time either Sunderland or Southampton won a major trophy was back in the 1970s when both sides won the FA Cup at some point in that decade (Sunderland in 1973, Southampton in 1976). Both of these sides have won the Championship though in the past ten years, but is this enough to satisfy fans? This doesn’t just apply to fans of Southampton and Sunderland, but to all football fans no matter what team they support.

Two teams come to mind when you think about sides that played ‘beautiful football’ but never won a single trophy in their respective time periods. The Netherlands National side of the 1970s and the Brazil National side of the early 1980s.

The Dutch in the 1970s were famous for pioneering ‘Total Football’ through the football clubs Feyenoord and Ajax, playmaker Johan Cruyff and national team coach Rinus Michels. Their national side qualified for two World Cups in that decade for the first time since 1938 and finished second in both tournaments. They also qualified for the European Championships for the first time in teams history and finished third. They never won any silverware but they did play ‘beautiful football’ which was recognised by many including the captain of the Brazilian team that won the 1970 World Cup, Carlos Alberto.

He said: “The only team I’ve seen that did things differently was Holland at the 1974 World Cup in Germany. Since then everything looks more or less the same to me…. Their ‘carousel’ style of play was amazing to watch and marvellous for the game.”

At the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the Brazil National team had football legends such as Socrates, Zico, Falcao and Eder, and is remembered as one of the greatest teams never to win a World Cup. They breezed through the first round of group stage games, but were knocked out by the eventual champions Italy in the second round of group stage games after a 3-2 defeat. Most players from this tournament returned for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where they once again breezed through the group stage, but were knocked out by France in the quarter-finals in a classic game of ‘Total Football’. The game finished 1-1 after extra time but France won 4-3 on penalties.

Whilst it is right to partially pay back fans for poor performances, like how Sunderland played against Southampton over the weekend and how far some fans travelled to watch that game live, winning trophies and even sometimes games should not be our measuring metre for fan satisfaction or ‘beautiful football’. The performances of Netherlands National team from the 1970s and the Brazil National team from the 1980s brought in a new style of football, ‘Total Football’, which was seen as game changing and got everyone talking. These were true demonstrations of beautiful football.

Some new game-changing tactics being showcased in todays game, like the way Chelsea used a ‘park the bus’ tactic against Barcelona in 2012 Champions League semi-finals. Some fans and pundits see this as ‘beautiful football’, playing to your strengths and your opponents weaknesses. Chelsea may have gone on to win the Champions League that year, but the way the game is played should be enough to satisfy fans, not the silverware that is achieved.

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