British football is undoubtedly dominated by the fiscal might of the Premier League; that is an irrefutable fact. The team finishing in 20th place this season - more than likely us - will walk away with over £100 million, all thanks to television rights which afford us access to astronomical sums of money. But is relegation from the Premier League genuinely as dismal a prospect as it currently seems?
Relegation is without a doubt symbolic of failure, that goes without saying. Essentially we have been unable to solidify our place as one of the country’s top footballing teams, and losing that privilege has to be considered a failure. However, in the apotheosis of my footballing life thus far I have seen clubs sink, swim and come full circle - so what’s to say relegation will be such a horrific ordeal? After all we’ve been here and experienced it all several times before, and after every low we’ve found our way back to those highs which we so desperately crave.
I think everyone associated with the world of football is trapped in the world of short-termism - something financial growth in the game has exacerbated. Just look back to our 1996-97 season, promotion under Peter Reid had us hoping for the best, yet within a season we were relegated. Did we sack Reid in a desperate attempt at solidifying our stay in the top flight? No. We believed in Reid’s vision for the club and gave him time. I’m not saying Moyes is in the same exact position, by the way, I’m just merely pointing out how much times have changed in the meantime. How many managers are allowed to take their team into the Premier League, be relegated, and then guide their club back to the big time once more? Very few.
Reid’s tenure saw us promoted once again, followed by successive 7th-placed finishes. Sunderland were a force, a team on the up striving for improvement and the dizzying heights of Europe. Surely Reid’s Sunderland were destined to evolve into a solid Premier League side? After all, we had just missed out on Europe twice within two seasons. Alas the world of football isn’t quite so definite.
Since those halcyon days of pushing for Europe back in 1999-2001, Sunderland have managed to finish in the top half of the Premier League just once in the following 18 years. Most people will agree that years of battling against relegation simply cannot be a positive thing. How can a club progress if year after year they are fighting for their lives? How can a club grow if we have to constantly pay extortionate sums of money to find so-called top talent to help us merely avoid the drop? How can we, as a club, develop if the very essence of our being is mere survivalism?
The simple answer is: we can’t.
And so we find ourselves staring down the barrel of the gun, suddenly embracing that cathartic moment we have been dreading for so long: we’re going down.
Should we be angry? Yes! Should we demand answers and look for progressive thinking to ensure the future of our club is a positive one? Yes! Relegation is not akin to a sentence for death-row; it is a wake-up call that must jolt this club back into action, and we the fans can aid this redevelopment... but only so much.
It’s clear to see our recent plans for the club haven’t worked - we need something more sustainable, and in a way revolutionary. We need a plan for this club that ensures constant growth without the all-in approach we’ve seen over the last decade or so. Club figures need to stand up and be counted. Ellis Short needs to stand up and be counted. If he is this uber-Missourian Lads fan, if he holds dear everything about this club that we do, if he wants success not purely from a financial viewpoint, but from the same level as we do - due to pride, passion and pure love for this club then Ellis Short must come forth and embrace this moment. If he doesn’t, then we cannot place our faith in his governance.
Yes Martin Bain is the man in de facto control, but we all know it’s Ellis in control of the purse strings. He is the man with the power, and nothing can improve unless he reconnects with us - the fanbase. Unless he gives us confirmation of our future, nothing will matter. Ellis, you simply have to talk to us.
I want to buy into the concept of Short being a rich man who wanted to solidify his being with a statue to his life. I want to buy into the notion that Short wants purely what’s best for this club. Yet I can’t. Where is his voice of reason? Where is his passion? Where is he? Surely he knows how devoted we are, so why not engage?
We don’t mind the relegation, and the abject misery of recent years because, you see, for us this is merely a blip - a bump in the road. I’ve supported the Lads since before I was born, as have countless others and we will support this club beyond the grave. I’ve cried when Whitley missed that penalty, when my dad snapped a Charlton fan’s flag over his knee, when Sorensen, Phillips and McCann left us - and other fans will have times of disappointment to tell from years beyond that.
However, something you must surely know by now is that very few of us choose this life, and even fewer have the opportunity to have an impact on the way in which our club exists. But you do, Ellis, because you have total control.
We know you’ve poured money into this club, but was it to improve us? Or merely to improve our worth? Are you genuinely as engrossed in this club as we are? Or do you see this as some sort of asset that, distressed or not, acts merely as a pawn in your quest for fortune?
We want to believe in you, in fact we want to believe in you as much as we believed in Murray and Reid when they promised us a future to be proud of. Yet all we’ve encountered thus far is pain and suffering. You haven’t been the man we so desperately thought you would be.
You see, despite football being engulfed by the world of economics and investment, we the people remain. We are the ones who will continue to return in the face of travesty and doom because this club is more to us than some distressed asset on a balance sheet. For us this is our life. We talk about it day after day, we devote days, weeks, months, years of our lives to it. We worship it in an almost perverse fashion, for who would genuinely invest so much time and effort into something that brings them such little joy? This club to us is beyond fandom, and I’d argue it goes beyond fanaticism.
Yet we have been seemingly abandoned, by this man who claims to want what’s best for us. The relegation doesn’t hurt, it’s the seemingly darkened abyss that symbolises our future that truly worries us. We sit in hundreds of millions of pounds of debt with absolutely no clarity on our future - we the people who enable this club to exist! It’s beyond outrageous.
All that we need is clarity. We don’t need a manifesto, but we do need you to come forward and speak. We need to hear your voice, and we need to hear you tell us that things will be alright.
Like I’ve said, this relegation isn’t the be all and end all of this club, but it is a genuine concern. We’ve failed to create income and we’ve failed to progress as a club - something has to change.
Ellis Short, you are the only person capable of calming our fears. You are the only man capable of assuring us we can return to the big time, and you are the only man capable of reassuring us of our fate.
Even if you’re not particularly fond of being a public image, we need to you kindle the beginnings of a meaningful relationship. You’ve seen our might and you’ve seen our dedication, we’d die for you if you’d only give us the chance to love you.
If you love Sunderland as much as we are led to believe and you want to carry this club forward, you simply have to.