So, things have taken a serious downturn for Adam Johnson lately.
At time of writing he is still waiting to find out how much of his next ten years will be spent in a prison cell for his sexual activities with an underage girl and the media is white hot with opinions, dissection and recriminations following the culmination of the trial.
Of course, some of those recriminations have hit our neighbours at SAFC, both as a club and at fan level. Given Johnson’s form in the Tyne/Wear Derby and the repulsive nature of his crimes, it’s something that was never likely to pass without comment on Tyneside.
I’d hope though, that people will get a semblance of perspective on this and it doesn’t degenerate into an unseemly points scoring exercise between fans when there are very real victims in this.
I realise the inflammatory nature of weighing in on this topic, but there’s a few things I personally feel are relevant and would rather (as ever) write them down, rather than keep having the same conversations over and again.
First, I think anyone in the Sunderland camp continuing to defend Johnson is behaving disgracefully. The argument that the girl was at the late end of her childhood is not even worth considering, the law in this country states 15 is too young for a reason. Regardless of how mature people may assert she is, she was not fair game for an adult 12 years her senior to take advantage of and she is most definitely not the one on trial here.
Undeniably, Johnson is vermin, a pathetic excuse for a human by any decent person’s standards. The fact that he was arranging and encouraging these grimy meetings while his girlfriend was in the process of having his baby shows how much of a man he is and is just part of the indication that the way footballers’ arrogant standing has been allowed to grow in this country is a serious problem. It should also be remembered that Johnson’s tiny daughter is also a victim in this, and I would hope no one would ever use the name of Newcastle United to direct abuse or misery in her direction either now or in the future.
However, even given the vile nature of the accusations last year, there are certain facts to be considered that I think it’s unfair to throw at Sunderland fans. To play the ultimate Devil’s advocate, I’ve asked myself how I’d behave if this had happened to a Newcastle player.
I honestly think the only reasonable first course of action would be to reserve judgement. Unfortunately, circumstances do occur where high profile people are targeted dishonestly and to pre-judge someone off the back of an initial arrest is not acceptable when, for all you know, they could be the victim.
To this degree, I wouldn’t come out in condemnation at the first instance. In fact, when Loic Remy spent a year at Newcastle, the first half of the season was played with a rape allegation held over his head. The charges were ultimately dismissed, so to castigate him for this would have been utterly wrong.
However, the behaviour of some Sunderland fans singing “he shags who he wants” and fabricating a situation where Johnson was the innocent victim of poor door policy at a fictional nightclub was too much, as was the raucous reception he received when coming on as a sub during last year’s derby. I would prefer to think a more reserved display of benefit of the doubt would be more appropriate and how I’d approach the situation.
As for the club, they have a lot of questions to answer.
In the first instance, with the PFA leaning on them and Johnson protesting his innocence, they may have had their hand forced in lifting the initial suspension. However, the meeting that CEO Margaret Byrne had last May should have removed any doubt in her mind, as a trained solicitor, that Johnson was bang to rights on this charge. Kudos to the Sunderland Echo for already pressing for further information from Byrne and the club on the details of this meeting as I’m sure there is more to come out.
Something that amazes me that SAFC fans don’t seem to have raised though, is that given the information available to Byrne some two weeks before the end of the 2014/15 season, why did she not initiate a contingency plan in the summer to replace Johnson for this seemingly inevitable outcome?
It seems feasible at least that Johnson lied to the club about his entering a guilty plea and as such misled the fans supporting him throughout. Most Sunderland fans I know, feel utterly disgusted at what has happened and betrayed by their erstwhile star player for allowing them to support him. However, I am shocked at how easily some have swallowed the brief club statement released following the trial. If Byrne did not see enough in 834 snapchats to prompt an official club enquiry then the very least the fans deserve is some extra information on the steps they did see fit to take, most of which are addressed in the Echo’s questions.
So, why is all this trawled through on a Newcastle fan’s website I hear you ask (especially if you’re from Wearside)?
Well, first of all I think it’s relevant for The Mag to address issues in local football, especially affecting a major rival in terms of geography and relegation ahead of a vital upcoming game. But secondly, I think it’s also appropriate to address how we as Newcastle fans conduct ourselves in the aftermath of this miserable saga.
I’m sure the majority of Newcastle fans have a far better moral compass than Adam Johnson. I’m equally as sure this is true of the majority of Sunderland fans.
As much as they are our hated rivals, I would hope we’d all admit that these people are also our friends, our workmates, maybe even family in some peculiar cases. They are north easterners from near identical backgrounds with the same values and attitudes. There are undoubtedly sad sacks and sorry cases among them who were involved in chanting “he shags who he wants” and who continue to support Johnson in spite of his conviction. They possibly would do the same, and worse, themselves if given the opportunity.
However, there is no denying that there will be an element among the Newcastle support with the exact same outlook. God knows I’ve been ashamed enough of associating with some specimens at various grounds down the years.
I would hope we can conduct ourselves with a bit of class on this matter; on social media, face to face and even at the forthcoming game. Those who continue to defend the indefensible are fair targets but I would hate to initiate all-out attack on Sunderland fans through guilt by association. Their club is being addressed through the media and for me, the best way to think about it is not Newcastle v Sunderland, but right v wrong.
If any accusations are thrown at SAFC, it could be argued that they bypassed their morals for an obsession with winning a derby. I hope this is not an obsession that can be turned around on us.
It’s a bit of a cliche, but I’m sure we all felt the class shown by the Sunderland supporters in the wake of the MH-17 tragedy that affected our club, perhaps moving supporters closer together than in a long time.
It would be a real shame if the actions of one repulsive individual undid all that.
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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