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NICK BARNES: Stewart Donald & Charlie Methven’s Sunderland revolution is well & truly underway!

It’s been almost six months now since the new owners took over at Sunderland and, as Roker Report columnist Nick Barnes explains, they’ve undoubtedly been nothing short of a success during their short reign so far.

Roker Report | Danny Roberts

With the new owners celebrating six months in charge at Sunderland, and with Stewart embarking on his magical mystery tour of supporter branches, podders (is that the generic name for Podcasters?) and a radio phone-in it’s as good a time as any to assess the impact the pair have made on the football club.

The most obvious and glaring change is the fact Sunderland AFC are at the top of a League table and not the bottom.

The fact they are third after only fifteen matches is proof - if proof was needed - that Donald and Methven have been rewarded in appointing Jack Ross as manager, with Ross initially being an outsider for the job who was singularly impressive in his interview. Charlie Methven by his own admission agrees the club are in a better position now than he and Donald had expected when they made their plans for the season, and that can only bode well for their ambition of seeing Sunderland promoted this campaign.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Where Donald and Methven have really succeeded and have earned 10/10 (rather than the more restrained 7.5 Charlie Methven awarded their efforts) is in galvanising a football club and its support which last May was in tatters, when the club was being deserted worryingly by the die-hards and the long term supporters who had had enough.

A significant number deprived of their seats in the Upper Concourse were doubly frustrated and some are still to be convinced, though from conversations I’ve had in the past few weeks even they are starting to return, energised by the renaissance taking place literally in front of them as the Stadium of Light regains the gloss it had on its opening in 1997.

As much as the pink seats have been ridiculed over the past decade, they were a startling barometer of what the football club was becoming - a shabby, badly-run institution that had not only forgotten how to win football matches but had forgotten how to treat its fans with a respect they deserved, having continued to turn up to watch in their tens of thousands.

Now when you look out across the swathe of new red and white seats it’s a Stadium to once again be proud of.

I turn up now when it’s empty on a match day and I want people to come and see it - I want people to see what a fantastic stadium Sunderland play football in. I want the away fans to leave with a feeling of awe.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven in one fell swoop - or a number of fell swoops if one takes into account the stages of the seat changes - have restored pride in Sunderland AFC in the most tangible way they could outside of winning football matches again. They can thank Jack Ross for the latter, but it is them we must thank for taking that leap so soon - especially bearing in mind how much money they are trying to save it is a move which could easily have found itself some way down their pecking order.

Those seats won’t have been cheap.

Beyond the transformation of the Stadium, the pair has also addressed the provocative problems of the playing squad, namely shifting the likes of Jack Rodwell, Papy Djilibodji and Didier Ndong. Refusing to be cowed by agents and the players’ actions, they stuck to their guns and moved them on, albeit with some unwanted legalities still hanging around to haunt them. One can’t imagine there will be too much sleep lost over it - it was another positive move to re-position the club in the eyes of the football world.

Both men - but especially Charlie Methven, who tends to be the most vocal of the pair - have been at pains to point out the club is still painfully spending too much money.

CameraSport via Getty Images

I’ve been impressed by their rigorous stocktaking, and while it has been painful for many who have lost jobs I am sure in the longer term it will only be for the better in terms of the club being stronger and more competitive and, who knows, the door may well open again for many of those who faced the indignity of being told they are no longer wanted by the football club they love.

Yes, there are those for whom that indignity is too great to stomach, and that is totally understandable. I wouldn’t for one second belittle their hurt. However, when one hears the figures being talking about, it’s not hundreds of pounds, not thousands of pounds, but millions of pounds, and if the club is to prosper and thrive one can understand where Charlie Methven is coming from when he talks of reducing the overheads and debts to a ‘manageable’ level.

It’s commendable that level may be the club carrying an annual debt of £2 to £3 million, which Stewart Donald or Juan Sartori would be happy to cover from their own pockets.

That alone is a statement which shows the new owners are committed to this football club and are not cowboys. There is a business plan in place and optimistically it targets the top eight of the Championship over the next few seasons as the club once again, sensibly, learns to walk before it can run.

As I cast my eyes back over the last six months I’m struggling to criticise because I’ve been genuinely surprised by the transparency and energy of the pair and of Tony Davison on his return to the club. It could have been easy to write them off as Southern spivs, shallow businessmen who eyed a greater prize, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find in Charlie an approachable knowledgeable football fan and in Stewart an engaging, admittedly less flamboyant, but no less enthusiastic fan.

For both Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven, Sunderland AFC has unquestionably got under their skin. Get your wagon out and paint it red and white.

Stewart Donald will appear as a guest on BBC Newcastle’s Totalsport show from 5.30pm-7pm this evening - be sure to tune in (95.4FM, DAB and BBC iPlayer).

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