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Between a rock and a hard place: Ellis Short’s ownership of Sunderland is a challenging dilemma

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As much as new ownership seems to be the preferred outcome for all parties, should we be wary of the risks associated with Ellis Short simply abandoning the club? What can we do?

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I recently read Scott Wilson’s excellent piece in the Northern Echo, and it really got me thinking about this incredibly complicated position in which we currently find ourselves as a cub.

Struggling in the Championship with a surplus of debt, it feels like we’re on the precipice. We’re looking into the abyss just waiting for something to happen - waiting for traction come better or worse. It’s the waiting that kills you; the uncertainty and the concern all-consuming like some lingering disease.

The journey to this cross-roads has been painful and demoralising. Consumed by a bottomless pit that knows no bounds, the club have tumbled from fiasco to failure at breakneck speed.

Somehow, though, we hold onto hope - almost entirely thanks to Chris Coleman’s bullish optimism. A Herculean effort is required in order to halt the slide, and should Coleman prevail it will be nothing short of legendary. This past weekend’s fantastic comeback against high-flying Bristol was superb, and could perhaps signal a shift in fortune - something we sorely need.

Away from the pitch, however, talk has intensified as to what a vulnerable fanbase can do - if indeed they can do anything at all to try and incite some kind of positive change.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship
Sparse.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The ire of many supporters is quite rightly aimed at Ellis Short, yet our relationship with the absent owner feels almost paradoxical. It’s like we’re the child of a passion long since ended. The love has gone between Short and the club, but we remain like some lingering specter of something that once flourished in a space now barren and sterile.

Yet, despite the irritation and anger directed toward Short, we sometimes forget that this is the man that has kept us afloat in spite of his overall poor directorship and financial misdealings.

That is not me suggesting we should be thankful to our withdrawn owner, but as Wilson noted in his article, Short’s involvement at this moment in time is literally crucial, and we must be careful what we wish for in terms of potential new ownership:

The most recent accounts showed Sunderland losing around £3m-a-month. Short was the one plugging that shortfall, and he continues to make regular payments just to keep the club afloat. If those payments stop, it will not be long before Sunderland are unable to meet their monthly commitments. That would mean administration, relegation to League One with a points deduction, and financial meltdown on a scale far outstripping anything that is currently being experienced.

I understand that Short as the owner of our club/his misguided business venture has a duty of care to keep things afloat, but things could turn very ugly very quickly should he decided to completely forsake his irritating gamble - and that is something we need to keep in mind as we move forward.

2018 EFL Championship Football Bristol City v Sunderland Feb 10th
Brilliant from the team at the weekend, but this result needs to mark a change in fortunes, otherwise it will be as futile as two bald men fighting for a comb.
Photo by Nathan Munkley/Action Plus via Getty Images

So we find ourselves trapped between a rock and a hard place. On one side is the very real threat of relegation and potential administration whilst on the other stands an owner who looks to do everything he can to minimize losses as he looks for potential buyers.

Many fans at this point feel helpless as to what they can do to incite any kind of positive change, and after such a difficult period who can blame them?

People ask: “What difference would it make? Just get behind the Lads.” I understand their position, but I can’t subscribe to that level of thought because that’s something we’ve done time and time again - and look where we are now.

Any potential fan-led action really needs to highlight the positive influence our fanbase can offer. Whether that be a demonstration of our passion and pride, or a sustained effort to increase clarity on key issues plaguing our club, as fans I don’t think we can sit by and merely spectate any more.

Yes the manager and players deserve our continued support, and Bristanbul (as last weekend’s draw has been dubbed) will go some way to garnering support going forward; however, we need to be asking serious questions of the club’s governance. What are our short-term and long-term goals? Do we have contingencies in place should we be relegated?

There needs to be a clarity between the club and the fans, and we need to have some form of understanding with regard to the direction we’re taking.

In turn, Sunderland fans need to find a balance in terms of support and protestation. We need to rally behind the club in order to try and inspire survival, but we also need to question the club’s ownership and governance and press for positive change.

Things cannot go on as they currently are - something has to change for the better. Whether it’s ownership or attitudes, the club has to alter from its current form because it simply isn’t working. Ellis Short, and indeed Martin Bain, have to recognize that their current approach is failing and going forward they need to find a way to efficiently communicate with fans.

Ellis Short wants to sell, and we want a club that isn’t crippled with debt and mystery. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like a sale is anywhere to be found on a gloomy horizon, so we need to move forward as one and find a way to make things work. We can’t stand by and grumble - we need to find solutions.