Dear Roker Report,
As I sit writing this in a lower Manhattan loft, I contemplate my family’s trip to Sunderland next week for the Birmingham match, and I review in my mind the chain of events that has led our family to what I can only call Sunderland addiction.
The agonized waiting for the team website to post the match videos, the shielding of ourselves from any foreknowledge of the results, the daily scrutiny (thereafter) of the newspapers, and the compulsive listening to Podcasts...
Why? What has led an ostensibly normal American family to passionately support - at a distance of 3,000 miles - such a woebegone franchise?
It began years ago, when our son watched Asamoah Gyan single-handedly eliminate the USA from the World Cup, and declared “That’s the player I want to follow…” And so we began following the boys in red and white, then languishing mid-table in the Premier League.
The rituals that attended it were not unpleasant. Every Saturday morning (10 our time, 3 your time) we would head off to a New York pub that served a magnificent Irish breakfast, and had at least one television tuned to every Premier League game. The results of course were mixed, but despite the gradual slide in the table and the dizzying parade of managers (Bruce, O’Neill, Di Canio, Poyet, Advocaat, Allardyce, Moyes, Grayson, Coleman) and despite the fact that only two players remain from that era - an aging Irish defender and a petulant blonde midfielder - we’re still with you!
When the time came to go and pick up our now college-age son from his junior year abroad in Europe, we thought “where else but the Stadium Of Light could we possibly rendez-vous?!”
And so in a week’s or so we will travel to Sunderland, check into the hotel next to the Stadium, and prepare to watch the lads win their second home game of the year (presuming, of course, a thrashing of Fulham on Saturday). Beforehand we’ll be raising a pint at the Peacock. Care to join us?
Dear Roker Report,
For many years now I have been amongst a growing number of Sunderland supporters to champion the need for youth to be given a chance and I strongly feel that if we don’t finally take that step now, we’re doomed.
Over the years, Sunderland has ploughed money into our academy programme so that we can develop the talent of the future and profit from their development. We’ve always known that the best way for a club like us to prosper is to develop talent that we can sell on to the bigger clubs yet it has been an approach that we’ve talked about but never actually done. Manager after manager has come and gone, having the same issues to deal with, yet our youth players have rarely been given their chance to shine.
How many have we moved on for either very little or nothing at all? How many of those young lads could have made it if we’d given them the support and opportunities they deserved? The reality has been that the Sunderland Academy has been a graveyard of opportunities and I now wonder why any young prospect would choose to join our academy. If we are to survive and prosper as a football club, this has to change now.
I think that we’ve had a number of really good managers but in their desperation to avoid the relegation that always hung over us, they’ve always chosen to stand by experience over youth and to a degree, that’s understandable. The problem is that it didn’t ultimately work and all we did was repeat the pattern until we finally went through the trapdoor.
Why? Because it was those senior players who were the problem to begin with. It was those senior players who put us into that dire situation year after year. This was the case because all of these players came for one of just two reasons. They either signed for a bumper pay day in the twilight of their careers or they signed because they weren’t good enough to play anywhere else. In many cases it was both of these reasons. Players like this don’t care about the club or the fans so they sleepwalk through the motions, happy to collect their pay and take an easy life.
Let’s face it, we can all think of plenty of these players and we’ve always been daft enough to pay top dollar for them. How many of them are worth even half what we pay them in wages, never mind their transfer fees? We could pay Rodwell half of his current salary and we’d still be getting robbed blind!
Our senior players represent a squad with no motivation, no desire, no pace and limited talent yet we have youth players who offer all of those things. I accept that they’re not the finished product but they’re not going to be unless they get a proper chance to develop in the first team. Nobody expected us to get anything but a severe beating against Wolves, especially with a dilapidated squad yet we saw more players with motivation, desire, pace and probably talent than we’ve seen in many a long year.
We may not have won but we were at least able to see players who tried their best and cared about the result and the plight of the club. That kind of heart and commitment is what we need if we are to pick up the 50 points we need to stay in the Championship and perhaps mount some sort of promotion push in the coming years. Even if we did go down, at least we’d go down seeing players actually trying and caring and fighting.
Not only are we getting a far better performance from these young players, it’s also making financial sense. It would be interesting to add up the weekly salaries of our usual first team of senior players and then see how it compares to the combined weekly wage of these youngsters who are doing a better job. They also represent a profit opportunity for the club when we sell them on. They won’t all be as profitable as Pickford but they also won’t be as expensive to us as the likes of Rodwell.
If we’re totally honest, we have a senior squad largely made up of has-beens and lazy spongers. It’s time for them to go. Gibson, Catts, Kone, Rodwell, O’Shea and and all the others who perpetually let us down need to either be moved on or put out to pasture. Whatever money we can get for them needs to be invested in players who long for the chance to play for this great club. Youngsters need to see signing with Sunderland as a real chance to develop and forge a successful career in football. They need to look at our first team and be sure that if they put in the effort, they will get a chance to play first team football. That hasn’t always been the case but perhaps with Chris Coleman, it’s starting to finally change. I hope so because these kids are our salvation and possibly our only hope.