Tuesday night and a chorus of boos ring around the Stadium of Light. The boo’s are directed towards Swansea’s Danny Graham, as he comes on as a substitute. Two days later and he has signed for the Black Cats for £5million. Welcome to Sunderland, Danny.
So why was Graham booed by some fans, knowing that he was potentially on his way to Sunderland? His Geordie background will help answer that question.
A few years ago, when playing for Watford, Graham was asked who he would support if Newcastle failed to exist. He replied: “Put it this way, I would stay as far away from Sunderland as I could.”
But now Graham will wear the red and white stripes of Sunderland; something which has split the Sunderland fans. Many fans can’t ignore his Newcastle roots, while others are willing to give the 27-year-old striker a chance to prove himself. But does it really matter that he supports Sunderland’s fierce rivals?
If you look back at Sunderland’s history, then it suggests that it doesn’t matter at all. One of the clubs proudest moments, the 1973 FA Cup win over Leeds, was pioneered by Bob Stokoe, a born and bred Geordie. In fact, there is even a statue of his famous pose at the final whistle standing outside of the Stadium of Light. Another Newcastle fan who played for Sunderland was Don Hutchinson.
Hutchinson became a fans favourite despite his Geordie roots, even kissing the badge when scoring at St. James Park. This is evidence that if the players perform on the pitch then people will forget all about their roots. No Liverpool fan ever hated Michael Owen for supporting Everton.
However, Sunderland fans do have the right to be wary after looking at more recent examples. Michael Chopra, a boyhood Newcastle fan and former player spent two years at Sunderland. Chopra’s roots were forgotten on his debut, scoring the winner on the opening day of the season, with his celebration looking similar to Alan Shearer’s iconic arm raise.
Chopra only scored eight goals, but Sunderland fans will always remember him for another reason. During the Tyne-Wear Derby, Chopra was guilty of missing a chance with the score at 1-1. This immediately led to fans jumping on his back, accusing Chopra of missing on purpose. Chopra’s Sunderland career never recovered after that.
In 1997, Geordie born and bred fan Lee Clark completed his move to Sunderland. Like Chopra, he spend two years on Wearside, Initially, his performances had won over the cautious fans but his Sunderland career abruptly came to an end when he was spotted with Newcastle fans wearing a t-shirt saying “Sad Mackem Bastards.”
The recent examples show why Sunderland fans will be uneasy about the Graham signing but they need to give him a chance. At the end of the day, Graham is a professional footballer, who will be giving his all for the team that play his wages. It doesn’t matter who Graham supports, when he puts on the red and white stripes, his focus will be on playing for Sunderland.
If playing for Sunderland would have been an issue for Graham, then he wouldn’t have signed. After rejecting offers from Norwich and Middlesbrough, Graham claimed that Sunderland was always his first option. A reassuring sign for Sunderland signs surely?
But there will be always be some doubters. His Geordie roots will always be brought up after poor performances, so Graham really needs to hit the ground running to win over the fans.
But if Graham gives his all and scores goals then his comments a few years ago will quickly be forgotten, especially if he manages to score at the ground he used to go to with a black and white top.
Written by Craig Lishman
Follow him on Twitter @CraigLishman
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