clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Five reasons a London base would be beneficial for Sunderland; forty-thousand why it'd be awful

The absence of any football for Sunderland this weekend has allowed the press and supporters a little time to ponder wider issues. One of the biggest has been the suggestion that the club are actively considering setting up a player-base in London. Is this a likely occurrence and what are the advantages of uprooting the club's soul and making for the capital?

General Views of UK Sporting Venues Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

The Sun derland story

The Sun yesterday claimed Sunderland are actively considering setting up a base in London. The suggestion considers that the Black Cats are pondering the plan to overcome a growing concern that the north east is an increasingly difficult location to sell to prospective top footballers.

The article even suggests that officials from the club have set their sites on Queens Park Rangers' current Harlington training facility. The west London club are set to vacate their present weekday home and controversially build a new state of the art facility on a green-belt site gifted to them by Ealing Council.

Queens Park Rangers Training Session and Press Conference
Queens Park Rangers training base at Harlington, West London
Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images

The Harlington site makes perfect sense for a multi-national football club, situated as it is on the northern perimeter of Heathrow Airport. But, is this really a serious consideration for a Sunderland club which is embarking on a renewed effort to claim it wishes to get back to the communities it represents?

Here's the case for and against a club like Sunderland uprooting its administrative and training base and moving it to the capital.


London calling - the case for

1. Top players want to live in London - and nowhere else

The lure of the capital is massive for today's millionaire footballers. An article in the Evening Standard earlier this month quoted an unnamed agent based in the north west as suggesting that the attractions of London are now a barrier to all provincial Premier League clubs.

West Ham United v Sunderland - Premier League
London's Olympic Stadium, the new home of West Ham, has given the Hammers an edge in competing with clubs of a traditionally similar size.
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

The agent, who isn't named, said this is a particular feature for footballers coming to England's top division from overseas: "all the foreign players want to go to London", he said before continuing, "it's the place to be. Their wives, their families - they all want to live there".

Indeed, the appeal of the south-east would clearly be compelling for a foreign footballer. No matter the nation from which they hail, the cosmopolitan capital is sure to have a community and a pocket of culture from wherever they come from.

And that attraction is before we consider shopping, entertainment, nightlife and wider cultural aspects of London which simply don't exist outside of the capital. Plus, the size and nature of the nation's biggest centre affords a certain level of privacy and anonymity for football stars that they could never achieve in a provincial city like Sunderland.

2. A Competitive edge

When it comes down to it, and an in-demand elite footballer has their pick of clubs to choose from, the appeal of being able to live in London may often be a deal-clinching one and enable the capital-based club to gain an advantage over any other offers on the table.

Look at the likes of Watford and Crystal Palace. Both are clubs with considerably less history and a smaller fan base than Sunderland, yet apparently are winning the battle in each increasingly competitive transfer window to attract players. Both capital-based outfits have been markedly keen to 'sell' themselves as 'London clubs' in recent times, for good reason.

3. London is where the business is done

Football is a huge global business and top Premier League clubs all now at least have an office base in the capital - it's where deals are done. International sponsors, agents, financiers and footballers themselves can all reach London from every corner of the globe.

Ease of reach aids business and aids the attractiveness of any club selling its wares to the global market.

4. It's only a matter of time before someone sets up in London, why should it not be Sunderland leading the way

There have been whispers that at least one top provincial club has been set to establish a player-base in the south east for some time.

And certain outfits would benefit more obviously than others. Think Hull City, Swansea, Middlesbrough and Sunderland - those clubs based in provincial outliers with poorer transport links than their rivals and who have to travel significant distances for the vast majority of away fixtures. Then consider those clubs in the second tier who may be considering a little long term planning too - Cardiff, Brighton and Newcastle for example.

When Sunderland played at Southampton in the league cup in October, David Moyes and his entourage spent days on the road with a trip to Arsenal three days later followed by a visit to Bournemouth a week after that. Air travel helps of course, but it's still not the same as breaking up the fixtures with more time in one's own bed.

Someone will blaze the trail and do it, so why not Sunderland and would doing so not gain us that edge over everyone who isn't based within easy reach of the capital?

5. Would we really notice?

Considering the club trains behind closed doors as it is, there is likely a compelling argument to suggest supporters and the local community would barely notice the difference.

Contact between player and fan is now so infrequent beyond matchday glimpses and the odd staged event that the days of supporters and their idols mixing in the pubs, shops and streets now feels like it was some archaic chapter in history.


Please don't go - the case against

1. It would be a Public Relations Disaster

Ultimately, the reason that no club has moved its base to London and out of its traditional community is that it would be an unmitigated PR disaster.

In American sport, the notion of franchises and sporting clubs hopping from one city to another is nothing new; but most of England's football institutions are of Victorian origin and have been the very fabric of the community in which they are based for generations.

For a relatively unsuccessful football team like Sunderland - in current Premier League terms - which has undergone more difficult seasons than most of its immediate rivals, unease is never far from bubbling above the surface. In recent years, full-scale angst has never quite shown itself at the Stadium of Light, but the threat always seems to linger in the air

And to give Ellis Short some due, he has always trodden carefully when it comes to relations with the public who pay to attend his club. Indeed, it may ultimately have been to the detriment of his investment. The American owner has historically bowed to supporter pressure in sacking managers when the going gets tough and has sanctioned scatter-gun approaches to quick-fire player recruitment to appease fans.

Sunderland remain a football club which keeps a nervous eye on the public mood and despite recent efforts to transform the secretive nature of previous regimes, trust between supporters and the Stadium of Light hierarchy remains tenuous.

But more than that, Sunderland, Wearside and the North East in general, remain a scarred landscape. The ravages of the past three decades and the destructive influences of Margaret Thatcher, market forces and the perceived actions of a London establishment which disregards this region are very real and still felt painfully.

For a club at the heart of that pain and representing the people who still endure it, a move to the capital would be particularly symbolic. There would be repercussions, no matter the logical hard-fact argument for the case.

Sunderland Unveil New Manager - Martin O'Neill Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

2. And it would be logistically challenging

Aside from the emotive dilemmas, there are two very challenging logistical issues to overcome for a club to set up its administrative and training base some 200 miles away from its stadium home.

Sunderland v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The first is obvious - travel. Two days a week - every week - would have to contain portions of time set aside for journeying to and from the traditional 'home' as well as for the 'away' games.

Not much different to the fortnightly trips for games on the road perhaps but this would now have to be done every week - though there may be gains for those fixtures played 'away'.

The second would be the very practical problem of housing footballers in two locations - their 'homes' in the south east plus their temporary digs in the north east. And today's player does not tend to have cheap tastes. So putting up the squad in 'digs' for two or three days a week will hardly be possible in hostel-like abodes. Costly no doubt.

3. It would probably only make sense for a Premier League club

The struggles of trying to attract the very best players in the world - or at least some of them - are probably currently felt more keenly in the melting pot of the Premier League. And at this time, the prospect of a continued Sunderland presence in England's top division is a dubious one. But that's not to say some thought has already been given to such a relocation project in the longer term at the Stadium of Light.

Leicester City v Burnley - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images