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With a divided fanbase at loggerheads, who is to blame for SAFC's mess & what can we do about it?

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Sunderland's fanbase is divided, but what can we do to try and make a difference?

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Sunderland v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Last week we asked the fans for their opinions regarding David Moyes and his future at our club; the poll came back with a clear indication that the fans want Moyes to stay. While 25% remained undecided on the matter, the following 26% indicated that they were keen for Moyes to be shown the door.

I found the results interesting to say the least. I, like many other fans, find myself in an odd situation as I try to fathom my feelings on the matter. I took to the internet to see what others were saying, hoping that I could find some clarity in their arguments. Unfortunately, the internet made for grim reading on all fronts. Much like the poll suggested, the fans appeared to be fractured in their opinions; there was a lot of name-calling and abject aggression in some of the debates, and as ever that’s something that prevents constructive discourse from prevailing.

We seem to have been divided and conquered, our opinions creating further divisions that do nothing to really understand the issues currently plaguing our club. Instead of wading into the internet-based slanging match, I decided to take a step back from the debate and analyze what our current situation really means for the club.


The Issues at Hand

There’s really no escaping the fact that we look a good bet for relegation this season - a measly 19 points collected from 27 games has left us rooted to the bottom of the table, where we find ourselves six points from safety. Our fate is most definitely still in our hands though, as the remaining fixtures pit us against fellow strugglers which gives us a great chance to fight out way to safety rather than relying on the incompetence of others. Displays will need to improve drastically and immediately if we are to save our skins once more this season, but we know this is possible provided the players perk up and give it their all - we’ve seen it happen a lot in recent years.

Injuries haven’t helped in any way, shape or form either as key personnel have spent significant time in the treatment room rather than on the pitch. However, that being said, there should still be enough quality in the team to play a better style of football than we are currently producing. David Moyes must shoulder some of the blame for this as his apathetic style does little to inspire confidence; his belief that some spark of luck or skill will be enough to help us “run into form yet" seems a little naive, and doesn’t do much to inspire confidence either on the field or off it.

Factor into the equation our financial situation, and you find more obstacles standing in the way of progression. Football finance blog, The Swiss Ramble notes that:

On the one hand, Short has proved himself a good owner by providing significant funding to Sunderland. In fact, not only has he loaned the club around £160 million interest-free, but he has actually capitalised £100 million of this debt. This is money he would only get back if he sold the club (and for a decent price).

On the other hand, Short has operated a flawed strategy, which has essentially amounted to a series of quick fixes, exacerbated by poor choices in player recruitment £141 million owed as gross debt with Short owed £58 million.

Gross debt is up to £141 million, and £58 million is owed to Short; the other £83 million is owed to a private bank called Security Bank Corporation and is payable by August 2019 should we decide against refinancing. The interest rate charged by said bank is at a relatively high 7.5%, which tells you a lot about the trust placed in our financial dealings - clearly, we aren’t trusted at all.

Essentially years of mismanagement at boardroom level have left us in a perilous position that potential relegation will only exacerbate as we lose our main source of income: television money. Relegation might seem like an opportunity to regroup and grow, but in reality we would have to perfectly manage our financial situation in order to prevent further fallout,

something we haven’t been very good at in recent years.

Relegation is a real threat to this club’s future; yes it could be managed to our favour, but ultimately we must be incredibly wary and patient if we do go down. There will be no instant return, there will be no magical turnaround, there will be a huge turnover in staff and there will be months, even years, of uncertainty. This is a real cathartic moment in our history, and we have no idea how it will unfold.

Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League
Who do we point the finger at?
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Who’s to Blame?

To me, and as already mentioned, it genuinely feels like the fans have been divided and potentially conquered by an apathy cultivated by years of poor displays in the Premier League. With a lack of vocal, inspirational leadership we find ourselves fighting amongst ourselves in the search for answers. Fingers have been pointed here there and everywhere, but ultimately no resolution has been found.

Moyes and Bain have came out in recent months with some cold, hard truths about the state in which we currently find ourselves, but ultimately that isn’t enough. We, the fans, need clarification on this plan we seem to have developed yet never truly elaborated on. We’ve heard about this journey that Moyes has embarked upon, but very little substance has emerged from this generic promise other than vague assertions that the club will return to its roots somehow.

We were forewarned by both Moyes and Bain that this season wouldn’t be particularly easy; it seemed like they were both just trying to lower expectations initially, but unfortunately that hasn’t been the case - look at our finances and our haphazard summer and you will clearly see that we were in a tricky position from the off. That’s not to excuse Moyes entirely, but it certainly hasn’t made his job a straightforward one.

Then you have our elusive owner, Ellis Short, who seems to have genuinely attempted to transform us into a top-half team, but has unfortunately failed miserably. He’s thrown cash at us left, right and centre and we are grateful for his fiscal contributions; however, as noted in the Swiss Ramble Blog - it’s all just been a series of quick fixes that have done nothing to address major issues.

Short’s inability to surround himself with experienced footballing people has meant that his club - which he is relatively distant from - has been run to rack and ruin by a series of inept executives who have had little to no experience in the world of top-level football. A complete shambles.

Essentially there’s a lot of blame to be shared, but Ellis Short must know deep down that he has essentially forged this perilous situation through poor decisions - not necessarily financial ones, as he has certainly been generous in that regard, but primarily in his poor choices of executives and other backroom staff.

Sunderland v Manchester City - Premier League
Is finger pointing really a worthwhile endeavor?
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

But What Can We Do?

As already mentioned, I’m still not convinced that Moyes should go. For one it would cost a lot of money to confirm his departure from the club, but it would also be poor timing to fire him now.

We can all agree performances have been poor, and we can all agree that outside influences have hindered Moyes’ ability to bring some stability to the club. But would getting rid of him now really benefit us? Who can guarantee that his replacement will be able to coax anything from the exact same set of players? What if we get a young, hungry manager and he does an even worse job until the end of the season? What then? Get rid of him, too, and put ourselves in another tumultuous situation? It just doesn’t feel like a risk worth taking.

Others may argue that we should be focusing our attention on Ellis Short and demanding that he does all in his power to sell our club as soon as possible. So should we gather up the bed-sheets and scrawl crude, messages of disgust? What good will that do? Short knows he has made a mess of things, but as reported in the media he already seems keen to sell the club, so what difference would a protest make if the chairman is actively looking to get rid of Sunderland?

Personally, I think this needs to be the season that we bite the bullet and decide that quick fixes aren’t the answer. Yes we may go down, and no I don’t want that whatsoever, but there are benefits to riding out the season and then looking to build something more concrete. I’m consigned to the fact that this could be it for Premier League football, but if that’s the case then so be it. The summer is an opportunity for Sunderland to grow and ensure we continue to build on foundations that will lead back to the Premier League as a far more stable and structured club. It won’t be easy, but it is doable.

What we do need, however, is more clarity and more involvement. What is this journey, and is it part of a bigger plan? We are the heart that keeps this club alive, and without us there would be no Sunderland AFC - we deserve more. We deserve a better club that does more than frantically paddle to keep its head above water. We deserve stability and we deserve transparency. We don’t need to know the inner workings of our finances, but we do deserve to hear what coherent strategy the upper-management have in order to advance our club.

We’ve been divided and conquered, but now is a time for unity - not for the sake of this season, but for the future of our club. We don’t need hashtags, PR campaigns and cheap media spin - we need clarity, involvement and honesty from those in charge of our beloved club.