clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The truth is out - €1m pay-out to Margaret Byrne merely the latest shabby episode in the Ellis Short era

Sunderland's accounts have been published and reveal Margaret Byrne was handed one million euros in the fall-out from Adam Johnson's conviction for sexual offences against a child. Sadly, the revelation is merely the latest episode in the decidedly rank Ellis Short era.

Sunderland AFC's latest accounts confirm that former chief executive Margaret Byrne received an £850,000 (over €1m) pay-off after resigning in the wake of Adam Johnson's conviction on child sex offences.

And so the latest chapter in the sorriest of sagas in the Ellis Short era is again consumed by the wider world with wide-eyed wonder at what exactly they have playing at on Wearside.

Storms over fascism, sexism and a now-convicted criminal turning out in red-and-white, the American financier - who a former colleague uttered under oath would be prepared to "appoint the devil" at Sunderland AFC - has overseen a horrible twisted culture at his club.

Continual shame. Yet a benign veil of tolerance towards Short continues to fog Wearside.

So those published accounts document the severance figure as "compensation for loss of office" - paid to Byrne after she departed her role at the Stadium of Light having admitted to a "a serious error of judgement" following Adam Johnson's conviction last year for child sex offences.

In a statement released in the wake of her resignation, Byrne would admit that the former England midfielder should not have been permitted to play after his arrest. Johnson earned nearly £2m from Sunderland AFC in the period between the club receiving documents indicating his admission to kissing and grooming his 15-year-old victim and the guilty verdict.

Questions naturally arise. Why did Byrne receive such a huge pay-out when she had taken full responsibility? Particularly as newspaper reports have claimed club sources indicated Byrne would have been sacked had she not resigned. And why so much?

For their part, Sunderland AFC appear to maintain that such severance deals are issued as standard and because Byrne had been privy to so much confidential and sensitive information during her spell at the club, a non-disclosure agreement and pay-out was unavoidable.

Paid to remain silent, and now those questions will now never be answered. Standard business practice perhaps, but morally abject all the same. Welcome to Sunderland.

Mid-way through Johnson's trial for sexual offences, on the 27th February 2016 to be precise, Sunderland travelled to West Ham for a lunch time kick off.

The game was beamed live on Sky Sports and a small group of supporters unveiled a banner openly questioning what owner Ellis Short and chief executive Margaret Byrne had known during the period since Johnson's arrest in March 2015.

A little over two weeks' earlier, the footballer had shocked the world - none more so than those supporters who had backed him on the terraces or his employers at SAFC - by pleading guilty to one count of sexual activity with a 15-year-old and one count of grooming.

The former Manchester City winger had denied all of the four allegations until the first day of his trial. On the 24th March, Johnson was jailed for six years.

Sunderland Footballer Found Guilty Of Sexual Activity With A Child Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Some - a minority - on Wearside entered a period of denial. Some - a minority - are still in it. Perhaps this festering sore on the arse of Sunderland AFC will only be lanced once Johnson is released, exiled and long forgotten by most.

That group of fans who plotted the banner unveiling were asked to take it down - not by Upton Park stewards or West Ham supporters, but by their fellow Sunderland followers that day. And not just 'asked', the half dozen offended-on-behalf-of-Johnson insisted. Denial was it?

Mark Metcalf, who is widely published on Sunderland history and biographer to the great Charlie Hurley, was one of those supporters behind the public questioning of Byrne and Short and recalls a group of six fellow away fans surrounding the lads with the banner and to avoid confrontation the words "Short/Byrne Time 4 The Truth" were taken down.

But not before they had been captured by Sky cameras and caught the eye of West Ham fans in the Boleyn Ground's Bobby Moore stand as well as Black Cats fans watching from home.

Some condemnation even followed from a section of online fans but that criticism was proven to be misguided as Johnson was sent down and this new revelation that Byrne - who knew of the now-convicted sex offender's admissions and had lifted his suspension to pay him £50,000 a week - received the equivalent of 30 years earnings for an average Sunderland-dwelling Black Cats fan for her 'error'.

One highly respected and popular journalist covering north east football recently asserted that the issue the wider world has held against Short, Byrne and the club by association is that Sunderland simply could not grasp that it had made the situation so much worse, especially for the victim of the sexual predator's crimes. It was never truly sorry, it just regretted it had been made to appear sorry.

Does anyone ever take responsibility at Sunderland AFC?

And now it emerges that our institution gave the one who admitted it had made such a grave mistake a cool million euros. How did we let them think they could get away with it without universal challenge, question or anger?

Perhaps the continual whiff of scandal and unrest at Sunderland this past five years has created a siege mentality amongst sections of the fan base with a reactionary response to criticism of the club in some quarters.

Quite literally no one at Sunderland AFC is accountable to anyone nor are they being held to account. That has to change.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Roker Report Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Sunderland news from Roker Report