by Tom Walsh
There is a stain on Sunderland AFC, one that has formed from a year-long shadow and its name is Adam Johnson.
It has been over 12 months that supporters have had to live with the fact that one of our players, an idol to some, could potentially be a child sex offender. On Wednesday, this horrible possibility became a reality as Johnson was found guilty on one count of sexual activity with a child and is now looking at a considerable stretch behind bars.
This is a man who had it all – a Premier League and international footballing career, a beautiful girlfriend and newborn child, fancy house, fast cars, adoring supporters and so much money he didn’t know what to do with. And now he has thrown it all away, ruined the lives of countless people and tarnished the name of a proud football club and city.
He presumably knew what he was doing was wrong but continued to do so anyway. He took advantage of a young Sunderland supporter who was totally starstruck by him and all the while went along picking up a wage packet and stepping out at the Stadium of Light without a care in the world.
In the space of almost a year he strung along supporters and teammates, was suspended and then reinstated, and went on to play game after game all the while maintaining his innocence before actually admitting what he had done. In hindsight, he should have never been allowed to wear the Sunderland shirt again and the club will no doubt have to answer some difficult questions in the coming weeks.
A large number of fans cheered him on during this time and now it just leaves us feeling cheated, shamed and, well, sick. There will be kids now with ‘Johnson 11’ on the back of their replica shirts asking their mums and dads where their favourite player is, and what are you really supposed to say to that? How are we supposed to look back at any victory within the last couple of years with any fondness knowing that he played for us?
Sunderland supporters have been through it all when it comes to ridicule, we’re pretty much used to it. Whether it is registering a record low points tally or appointing an openly fascist manager, but this is something no-one ever thought we would have to deal with.
This level of ridicule is something else and one that we simply have to endure. It is kind of strange how football supporters view sex crimes against children with many seeing it as a perfect chance to pathetically point score against another side. The countless memes, the ream after ream of celebratory tweets from rival supporters, the insightful YouTube commentators, and then of course the hilarious photoshopped pictures from those classic football “banter” pages.
Had this been a doctor, teacher, police officer or any other profession it would be viewed first and foremost as an abhorrent crime. Since this is a footballer, it becomes a hilarious joke, one that can be poked in the face of supporters for which he used to play. There will be no doubt that in the games to come opposition fans will be gleefully chant Johnson’s name towards the Sunderland contingent and labelling us all as paedophiles as if we were in some way responsible for his actions, but hey it’s all banter right?
It is a sad portrait of what football has become but what it does is detract from the stone cold truth of this whole horrible mess which is that a young girl has had her childhood taken away by the actions of her hero. Someone she adored, someone she thought she could trust, someone who should’ve known better and someone who ultimately preyed upon her.
Would she ever feel safe returning to the Stadium of Light or even watching a Sunderland match again after being a victim to a crime like this? Whatever affection she had for this club has effectively been destroyed by the whims of an arrogant player who thought he was above the law. That is the true scale of what Johnson has done.
As he returns to his mansion and awaits sentencing he can take a long look around and realise how he’s managed to ruin everything. Ruined the life of his victim and her family; ruined the life of his now ex-girlfriend who will have to at some explain to their daughter why her dad has been to prison; ruined the life of his own family; besmirched a club and supporters and ultimately destroyed a career and life that many of us could only dream of.
While this whole sorry affair is almost at a conclusion, the stain is far from removed.