Sunderland AFC chief expresses “disappointment” after planned friendly with Middlesbrough hits the buffers

SAFC director Charlie Methven has criticised the council's stance on the proposed friendly.
SAFC director Charlie Methven has criticised the council's stance on the proposed friendly.

Sunderland AFC chiefs have expressed their “disappointment” after they were forced to scrap plans for a friendly following safety concerns because it clashed with the air show.

The Black Cats were hoping to host Middlesbrough at the Stadium of Light on Friday, July 27 - the same night the Sunderland International Airshow gets underway.

The friendly would have taken place at the Stadium of Light.

The friendly would have taken place at the Stadium of Light.

The club hoped the match could generate around £200,000 to boost its coffers.

But the bid hit opposition after concerns were raised over transport and safety, with thousands expected to flock into the city for the fixture and the air show - which is set to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Club chiefs had tried to negotiate to alleviate concerns - including only offering seats to season tickets holders and not opening doors to aways fans.

Black Cats executive director Charlie Mathven hoped the compromises would secure the fixture - but the club were unable to alleviate fears of police and council bosses.

Mr Methven today expressed his “disappontment” over the decision - but said he looked forward to building a relationship with the council in the future “which recognises the benefits to both parties”.

He said: “SAFC is disappointed to have been told by the council that it could not countenance this event going ahead on Friday, July 27 because of the air show. We are fully signed up to the safety and security processes that go ahead in the granting of a licence for any public event, and had worked hard to mitigate those factors, right up to agreeing to a home season card holder only policy, if required. If, none-the-less, the Safety Advisory Group had decided that the match could not go ahead then, naturally, we would have accepted that decision graciously.

“It is important to note that SAFC is very supportive of the air show: every year, the club provides free parking for it, and unlike other clubs up and down the country is expected to give up the opportunity to stage a home friendly on the Saturday before the season starts because of the volume of visitors to the air show. We are therefore constructive moral and financial contributors to the event.

“However, in all partnerships there is, we believe, a requirement for compromise, consensus and common sense. We compromised by offering to play Middlesbrough on a Friday – when the air show audience is relatively small - and to only have SAFC season card holders able to buy tickets. By demonstrating that spirit of compromise, we were hoping for a constructive dialogue in return.

“We look forward to building a relationship with the council that recognises the benefits that both parties can bring to each other. As SAFC fans would rightly expect, though, we will be vigorous in arguing the cause of both the club itself and in trying to ensure that football supporters are never characterised in a derogatory way.”

The air show attracts around one million visitors across the weekend - with the Friday night attracting bigger crowds than in previous years due to the appearance of the world-renowned Red Arrows.

A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “We raised a number of safety concerns with the club regarding the proposed fixture and we are pleased that they have been listened to.

“These centred around an already-anticipated high number of visitors into the area due to existing long-standing events. Ensuring the safety of the public is our upmost priority.”

A Sunderland City Council spokesman added: “The City Council had taken advice from a number of agencies, including the police, who requested a Safety Advisory Group meeting.

“On advice the club have withdrawn their application. The council has always been a big supporter of the club and remains so.”