Forget Kyril Louis-Dreyfus' apology - Sunderland's latest derby day blunder might be unforgivable

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The Black Cats were at the centre of widespread controversy on Thursday after it was revealed that a bar in the Stadium of Light been specially redecorated to accommodate Newcastle United supporters ahead of Saturday's FA Cup third round derby clash.

This was a new low. Even for a club who have spent the better part of a miserable decade traipsing through the doldrums - who have plunged to the depths of League One, who have cried on Netflix, and who voluntarily employed Lee Camp - this was a nadir. Sunderland Association Football Club, everybody; finding cruel and unusual ways to crush your expectations since 1879.

Those 144 years of proud, difficult history were tossed into a meat grinder on Thursday afternoon. Forgive the melodrama, but the disbelief is still a tad raw. It began with fuzzy speculation, then leaked photographs that ripped through social media like a fire in a matchstick factory. Soon, it felt as if the entirety of the internet was snickering at the gelatinous leadership model that had somehow sanctioned the monochromatic redecoration of a bar, nestled deep within the bowels of the Stadium of Light, to appease an approaching horde of Newcastle United supporters.

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On Saturday, Sunderland will host the Magpies in a first Wear-Tyne Derby (or Tyne-Wear, depending on your syntactic persuasion) for almost eight years. At this rate, the Toon Army could hardly feel more welcome if Penshaw Monument was draped in a Saudi flag and Sam Fender was hired to perform 'Blaydon Races' at half-time.

Of course, the incandescent response led to a salvo of excuses and a climbdown so fast it might as well have been a plummet. Sunderland chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus - distant relative of Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and evidently in possession of a comparable knack for farce - took to Instagram to express his 'disgust', 'hurt', and 'regret', which are big words coming from the one man who had the power to prevent the sorry debacle from happening in the first place.

On Friday, Sky Sports journalist Keith Downie explained on X, formerly known as Twitter, that: 'Newcastle were allowed access to Black Cats Bar [the redecorated area in question] by Sunderland to ‘cover & protect’ the SAFC branding & artwork on the walls ahead of the derby. NUFC fans will be housed in the hospitality bar & SAFC were worried about their property being damaged. Sunderland expected the Newcastle decoration to be ‘neutral’ and were shocked when pictures emerged yesterday.'

There are two ways of interpreting this; either Sunderland have been caught out to a galactic extent and are feeding the media falsehoods in a desperate effort to retcon the fiasco and dilute their ineptitude, or, more likely, they have been naive to a hellish extent and are now gruesomely enduring the consequences of their own half-witted actions. Neither is acceptable.

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The decor has since come down but the careless wounds have already been inflicted. This is a smashed vase, a cremated rhubarb crumble, and nothing but a fully-operational time machine would be able to dissolve the humiliation. Accidental or otherwise, this, like all the baddest of decisions, was unnecessary, avoidable, and wholly inexplicable in the unforgiving light of hindsight. It is the kind of folkloric blunder that haunts a club for generations.

And as a Sunderland fan, I am just so tired of it all. Tired of being a bumbling laughing stock, sick to the back teeth of propping up the cheap, rote jokes of the ten a penny banter accounts that speckle doomscrolled timelines. I am fed up with being the plaything of rejected candidates from The Apprentice, who suffocate common sense under the pillow of business jargon, their brains addled on quarter-zip fleece trends and Bluetooth headset death rays that have smoothed the ridges of their frontal lobes like Easter eggs in a microwave. For far too long, Sunderland have put the Wear in wearisome.

This is not reactionary or brattish; there are just some lines that cannot be crossed. And while the Black Cats have come an admirable way under KLD - from the gutters of the third tier to within 180 minutes of a roaring Premier League return - a howler of such severity, in the eyes of many, undermines so much of that progress.

Because the fear is that if you allow something like this to happen on your watch, maybe you don't understand our club as well as you think you do, and maybe, just maybe, you never will. Football, to the city of Sunderland - and, to the North East writ large, for that matter - is not just a game. It is pride. It is heritage. It is a compulsion on which everything hinges. It is the last vestige to which we cling of an era when our fortunes hadn't been snatched away from us and trampled all over by neo-liberal boots. It is the one thing that has never truly crumbled, the one thing that collectively binds us. It is daft and it is intangible, but it is important. And Kyril, whether you meant to or not, you let somebody waltz right through the front gate and graffiti it in shades of black and white.

This might take some getting over.

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