I have a friend. I’m aware that just this one sentence has left the credibility of this article dangerously at risk. But terrifyingly I have several! This particular friend in question shall remain nameless, but needless to say that in 2017 this man is a successful businessman, is well respected throughout his industry, is a great father to sweet kids, a top notch husband to a beautiful wife, a pillar of integrity who volunteers his precious time to youth groups in his neighbourhood and to his faith community who hold him in the highest esteem. He’s an amazing fella truth be told.
But turn the clock back to 1995, he was a skinny teenager with a penchant for hilarious put downs, scandalous banter and precocious pranks. He was a bold reprobate, a loveable rogue famed for a game attitude and enthusiasm for controversy. Although he is a southern sophisticate now, the toast of our capital, he’s a Sunderland lad, born and bred. One of his most notorious party tricks was encapsulated by his liberal attitude towards personal nudity. Mooning in particular was a speciality. He once stood on a roundabout in South Shields at 9pm after a bout of five a side at Temple Park Leisure Centre and for 5 minutes mooned every car that drove past!
After some angry responses and countless annoyed honking we scarpered and eventually came across a couple of similar aged girls, where after a little sparkling conversation the question was asked, “Would you like to see the moon?” Thinking this was a romantic offer to stargaze the heavens, they enthusiastically said yes. At which point my pal dropped his Reebook shorts and wobbled his hairy butt excitedly to our astonished audience... at which point we ran off again into the night and caught our bus home.
In education I’ve used aspects of this childhood memory as an allegorical tale of caution - to students who wistfully dream of gaining a hatful of qualifications without wanting to do the work necessary to achieve them. You may ‘wish for the moon,’ I tell them, ‘But if its only wishes and no work, you might just end of with up with a bum set of results.’
With the talk of promising take overs and buy-outs sweeping Wearside and promising reports of a battle between various parties including a consortium led by life-long Sunderland supporters the excitement is reaching fever pitch. After the disaster of the last 5 years finally culminated in our dismal relegation, a stack of mounting debts and some of the most abysmal football served up by some of the most apathetic players we’ve ever had the displeasure of watching, it’s completely understandable why many Sunderland fans are desperate for change. Lets’ face it - we’re in the pit of despair. But as another cautionary note to the fans who want a takeover by anyone, as quickly as possible (again, another totally understandable thought process) I post the rallying cry, don’t wish for the moon as you don’t know what kind of ass you might get.
The widespread takeover of English football clubs by various owners over the past 20 years has resulted in many outcomes. Leicester’s story has been a massive, unprecedented success as has the partnership of Manchester City and kindly billionaire Sheikh Mansour. I’m old enough to remember both clubs in crisis. I remember watching Lee Howey giving Leicester a good going over back in the mid 90’s and City languished pathetically in League One in the not too distant past. The experience of new ownership for them has been breathtakingly brilliant.
For others supporters they’ve experienced the kind of horrific disappointment we think we’ve suffered, but in truth have not really encountered even in our current predicament. Massimo Cellino at Leeds United, Fawaz al-Hasawi at Nottingham Forest and Roland Duchâtelet at Charlton Athletic have enraged their supporters with ludicrous, selfish and - if we’re being truthful - downright ignorant decisions and have demonstrated a flabbergasting lack of responsibility towards their stewardship of the much loved institutions that many fans would bleed for. Their absolute lack of empathy for the paying punter and the abstinence of future planning have been wretched. They’ve shambolically looked while potentially losing the next generation of young fans who’s heads could be turned by an infinite amount of enjoyable alternatives that don’t involve banging their heads off the proverbial brick wall.
Similar to at the Stadium of Light, the owners face rebellion and on some occasions hatred by the fans who’ve dedicated much of their time, energy, finance and emotional output to supporting those clubs. Yet they have little introspection and often fail to understand why they are the focus of so much vitriol.
Any new owners of any football club must realise - and very quickly - that we supporters never revolt against success. We don’t protest at beautiful football that entertains the masses, we don’t defect because of long cup runs or rebel because of successful promotions or European qualification. Quite often a protest or revolution is the last thing we want. We just want something good - heading in the right direction. Something to be proud of and something whereby we can glimpse into the future and not panic about heading in to an abyss.
Owners such as Guochuan Lai at West Brom, Paul Suen Cho Hung at Birmingham City, Tony Xia at Aston Villa and Guo Guangchang at Wolves will live at peace with the supporters if they are responsible in their stewardship and have a vision. If any of those owners were to bring real success to their clubs, they would receive the eternal love and deep gratitude of their supporters - just as Leicester’s do now. Imagine winning the Premier League? It seems impossible, right? But under the right ownership teams once bullied by Lee Howey can compete in the Champions League and do well.
Even the much heralded Sunderland consortium seems fraught with risk, with the reports of perennial management failure Tony Adams being involved somewhere in the structure if they are successful. However, if there is a Sunderland-based, Sunderland-led and Sunderland-supporting consortium then it must give us hope. If there is a chance of such a group of leading the club, then perhaps we can start to look up.
Just don’t wish for the moon - just yet.