FOOTBALL can be a force for good in the community and newspapers have a role to play in getting that message out. 

Few clubs have done more than Sunderland AFC over the last decade to use the power of Britain’s national sport as a vehicle for improving lives in the community.

Its Foundation for Light charity, for example, is the biggest of its kind in the country, raising £4m a year to fund life-changing literacy, health and sports programmes.

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Jermain Defoe’s support for Bradley Lowery during the striker’s time on Wearside - and the money raised by fans of clubs across the world in Bradley’s name to fight cancer - showed that football can have a heart. 

There is another side to the game.

On Saturday, football was once again hijacked by idiots hell bent on causing trouble. Thugs - some of them Sunderland and Celtic fans, and some of them members of right-wing extremist groups who came with the express purpose of starting a fight - ensured that an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Stadium of Light will be remembered for violence. 

Stripped back to basics this was largely a battle between Loyalists and Republicans. Chants both for and against the IRA were heard in the ground, as well as on the streets and pubs of the city. What on earth has that rubbish got to do with Sunderland? 

Before the match kicked-off a few streets in the city became like a small corner of Derry, Belfast or Glasgow where an ancient argument that has nothing to do with football was used as an excuse by feeble-minded drunks, nationalists, terrorist sympathisers and, to use local parlance, radgies who love a scrap. 

Some commentators have attacked Sunderland football club for inviting Celtic in the first place, arguing that the Glasgow team’s huge travelling support many of whom possess Irish Republican sympathies invited trouble. This is like saying clubs shouldn’t sign black players because it invites racists in the crowd to shout abuse at them during matches. We should never allow the worst elements of our society to dictate what we can and cannot do. 

The scumbags who came and caused trouble at the weekend - be they right wing thugs, Republican extremists or football hooligans - are not welcome in Sunderland and anyone who cares about the good name of the club and the city should join The Northern Echo in ensuring that message gets out loud and clear.