The twentieth anniversary of Sunderland’s move to the Stadium of Light passed by almost unnoticed.
The club, reeling from relegation and wary of an increasingly dismayed fan base, arranged a pre-season visit of Scottish champions Celtic and little more. The occasion itself appeared to be anticipated more by the visitors than the hosts, with some 8,000 Hoops fans making the journey from Glasgow.
That feeling was only strengthened when Sunderland promptly shipped five goals without reply.
In some ways, such a jarring defeat was rather fitting.
Built as an intended fortress back in 1997, the 49,000-seater ground on the banks of the River Wear has come to resemble anything but nowadays.
The lack of a home win across the entirety of 2017 to date is well-known, and something the club should be thoroughly ashamed of, but in truth it isn’t all too surprising given the rather dreadful home form the Black Cats have shown in recent years.
It was not always thus. Back in the formative days of the Stadium of Light, it took over two years for Sunderland to lose a fourth league game at their new home. The first four years at the ground that was for so long chairman Bob Murray’s dream were wildly successful in comparison to the club’s recent history, and had many hoping it had ushered in a promising era for the red and whites.
As we all know, that hasn’t quite transpired.
But, to say that the past twenty years of Sunderland’s existence can be easily boiled down to a few sentences would be thoroughly misleading. For all the misery of the last few years, how the club has come to be where it stands now is not an easy question to answer.
‘Short-Changed’, though the title may suggest a focus on the current club hierarchy, is a new book which looks at the past two decades in detail, to establish the path the club has taken since its move away from Roker Park. The book has been meticulously researched, and draws on numerous exclusive interviews with individuals who have had an up close and personal view of the the last twenty years on Wearside.
The book is split into three sections, covering the eras of the three men who have occupied the chairman’s seat at the Stadium of Light: Bob Murray, Niall Quinn and Ellis Short.
The on-field events are, unsurprisingly, given plenty of coverage, as the book recalls all the highs - yes, there really have been some - and the lows since the move to the new ground.
However, it is not just a plain old recounting of scores and scorers. The finances of the club under each chairman are considered in great depth, assessing the various strategies the club has opted for in order to break into the Premier League’s elite.
More pertinently, the latter stages of the book consider just how it is that the club finds itself in quite as much debt as it is now, particularly when considering over half a billion pounds has come into the club since Ellis Short arrived on Wearside nearly a decade ago.
Moreover, though steering clear of the usual cliches, the book assesses the link between club and community over the last two decades.
As football has veered further and further from the working man, so too does the book find that Sunderland, once a club in tune with its surroundings, have also sacrificed community links to chase the golden goose.
For all the negativity surrounding the club at the moment - and the book’s title does little to avoid this inevitable conclusion - ‘Short-Changed’ casts an analytical eye over how Sunderland AFC have reached the situation in which they currently find themselves. There are anecdotes aplenty, not to mention several tales that were not previously common knowledge.
In all, the book tries to make sense of what has happened at Sunderland, ever since Bob Murray made the decision to build a home that would be fitting, should the good times ever return to Wearside.
That they haven’t yet should not detract from the fact that the story of the club since the move from Roker Park is one that makes for quite a read.
‘Short-Changed’ - a book by former Roker Report writer Chris Weatherspoon - can be purchased at the ALS online shop, at the ALS store outside of the Stadium of Light, and at Waterstones book store in The Bridges.