I can’t remember the last time that I genuinely felt like the club as a whole was moving forward in the right direction. The Wembley final and the great escapes were fun, so too was that brief stint of mid-table mediocrity under Steve Bruce; however, deep down it always felt like something wasn’t quite right, and I’ve never been able to really put my finger on what it was, or how it could be changed.
Yet even after all the years of heartache it still feels like we’ve got to give the club a chance to change for the better - no matter how many times we’ve been let down before. Pledges were made this summer vowing increased transparency and greater fan interaction, and the club have tried to address both concerns to varying degrees of success. However, what is definite though is that right now the club feels void of any optimism, and if that doesn’t change soon - things will turn ugly.
The issue with the information we receive from the club is that, whilst it’s certainly truthful and transparent, much of it is difficult to comprehend. It’s often business jargon, and, whilst trying to come across as being transparent, it leaves many feeling increasingly confused with the obstacles being faced by our beloved club (myself included).
As reported by James Hunter yesterday, Martin Bain has come forward with answers as to where the club stands financially at present:
I’m a football fan and I understand that supporters look at the money they know is coming in, and the money they see going out, and wonder what happened to the difference.
I recognise that we have sold players for a large amount of money and our spend is not commensurate with that.
The truth is that every penny of the £33m that we received for Jordan Pickford and Vito Mannone has gone into the running of the club.
But what exactly does “running the club” entail? General expenses? Investment? Paying debts? It’s almost a throwaway line that creates twice as many questions as it answers because we’re not all blessed with an intricate understanding of corporate finances.
I understand Bain and co. are in a difficult position in trying to be transparent whilst simultaneously protecting the clubs interests - it’s a fine line that is difficult to traverse - but unfortunately this did very little in terms of offering anything close to clarity for the vast majority of Sunderland fans who don’t know their way around financial bookkeeping.
There was some good news with regard to reductions in the wage bill and potential money coming from loan deals being made permanent next summer, but even those morsels of promise were tainted by the news that “the club was obliged to pay £10m for Ricky Alvarez due to a deal that was done in 2014,” and that the club have little money to invest “because of significant payments due this summer for players signed in previous seasons.” It’s unclear as to where we actually stand here, other than knowing it isn’t very good and we seemingly love to waste money.
I appreciate it’s sometimes difficult to really get across what you want to say - especially when you’re attempting to explain a very difficult and complex situation to people unfamiliar with the issue(s) at hand. However, the failure to do just that runs the risk of increasing our mistrust and melancholy. The Sunderland Echo provided other information from Bain which again was well meant, but proved to be troublesome:
In terms of the governance of this club, we’ve brought in £40million, the wage bill has been brought down considerably, the operation costs have been brought down which is something that’s very important for the club.
When you look at it from that perspective, there is an impact being made. I really do believe it will turn, I know fans can’t see it at present because of the recent results but with some positive results we can say we’ve made progress.
Statements like the one above go some way to helping the average Joe comprehend the issues facing the club and the decisions being made to reverse our woes, but even then Bain’s awful final remark detracts from the progress made beforehand. The assertion that we’d be happier with our current situation if we were winning goes without saying, but the fact we aren’t perhaps highlights some glaring issues with our recruitment process and the finances available to strengthen the club, right?
Looking at getting steadier growth – to change some of the identity issues that we’ve had and invest in different areas of the club – is so important for us to move forward.
When you’re in the situation which we’ve been in the past, you’re making last minute signings, you’re not doing what you set out to do, I can see why mistakes have been made.
I think almost every fan can agree that things need to change if we are to progress as a club, but some of this information really doesn’t make much sense to me. I’m not sure where the growth and identity issues link up together if I’m being honest - I don’t even know what our identity really is. And we did rush around last minute this summer trying to sign much needed reinforcements - proof we’re still making the same daft mistakes!
I’m aware that all I’ve done so far is moan about the club, but I do think there’s a relatively simple solution to rid us of our confusion: talking directly to the fans. It’s hard to believe anything that isn’t communicated directly, and media appearances often appear staged or false - even if made with the best of intentions.
Involving as many fans as possible should be the club’s priority right now. We’ve banged on about it time and time again, but conversing with the fans in an open and honest manner would really be a step in the right direction. What’s to stop the club hosting an open event whereby Bain and Short deliver their messages to an audience of fans before taking questions that aren’t overly aggressive or irrelevant?
There’s little we can do to impose any change on the business side of things in reality, but does it really sound awful to suggest the club invite fans to listen to the issues facing the club and the plans in place to fix our problems in an open and honest environment?
Ultimately, confusion reigns supreme on Wearside, and until the club accept the majority of fans as part of the solution to our issues, I struggle to see things changing for the better.