Red-faced Sunderland chiefs have apologised for a “serious error in judgement” after a bar at the Stadium of Light was decorated in the colours of arch-rivals Newcastle ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup derby.
Fans reacted with fury when images emerged on social media on Thursday of the Black Cats Bar at the Wearside venue with banners proclaiming the messages “Keep the Black and White Flying High” and “We are United”, while Sunderland’s motto “Ha’way the lads” in red had been replaced with the Geordie spelling “Howay” in black.
However, the Sky Bet Championship club later released a statement announcing an immediate review and confirming the bar, which will serve as a corporate hospitality area for visiting fans, would be returned to its previous livery before the third-round tie.
It said: “Sunderland AFC acknowledges that a serious error in judgement was made in relation to Black Cats Bar earlier this afternoon.
“We apologise to our fans for the understandable concern they have fairly voiced in response and this sentiment is shared by the club’s ownership group and board of directors, who have requested an immediate review is undertaken to determine how this process unfolded.
“A direct decision has also been taken by the ownership group and board of directors to return the space to its original state and we once again apologise to our supporters that this was not addressed sooner.”
Tensions were already running high among Black Cats fans after some season ticket holders were moved from their usual seats to accommodate 6,000 travelling Magpies supporters in the stadium’s North Stand.
The latest development sparked fresh anger as the club was accused of laying out the welcome mat for their Tyneside counterparts.
Long-standing fanzine A Love Supreme said on X, formerly Twitter: “At a complete loss for words. What on earth are the club doing?!?!?!
“Let’s hope the players don’t roll over and let the Mags tickle their tummy like the club have.
“Don’t think the club realise how much of a mistake decorating the stadium with Newcastle stuff is. Any good will they’ve developed from the results on the pitch/ getting us back into the Championship could genuinely be completely gone especially if we lose on Saturday.”
Don’t think the club realise how much of a mistake decorating the stadium with Newcastle stuff is. Any good will they’ve developed from the results on the pitch/ getting us back into the Championship could genuinely be completely gone especially if we lose on Saturday #SAFC
— A LOVE SUPREME (@ALS_Fanzine) January 4, 2024
The eagerly-anticipated fixture will be the first time the north-east neighbours have met since a 1-1 Premier League draw at St James’ Park in March 2016, with the clubs having taken very different paths during the intervening period.
Sunderland, who had won each of the previous six encounters, spent four seasons in League One after successive relegations from the top flight, while Newcastle have been reinvigorated since being taken over by Amanda Staveley’s Saudi-backed consortium in October 2021.
Later on Thursday evening, Sunderland chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus issued a personal apology to supporters, saying he had been left “disgusted and hurt” by the images of the “inappropriate signs”.
“I would like to apologise to everyone associated with Sunderland AFC for the events that have unfolded today,” Louis-Dreyfus wrote on Instagram.
“Like our supporters, I was disgusted and hurt by the pictures circulating online of the inappropriate signs that have been ripped down.
“I take full responsibility for every decision that is taken by the employees of our club and you have my word that I will personally make sure that we make the necessary changes required to improve because it is clear that there are many areas where we need to be better.
“I have got to know many of you personally over the past three years and I have always tried to act for the good of the people the club represents, which makes today even more disappointing.”