Last week I attended a talk-in with Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton. Pie, peas, a couple of light ales; a couple of hours to take the chance to really cast our minds back to happier times and forget our current woes and frustrations. It was a time of excitement and free-flowing football - a time of Johnston, Quinn and Phillips; a time to be really proud of our football club.
Listening to Reidy and Saxton reminisce about not only their period at Sunderland, but their careers in the game before and afterwards, was an entertaining and enjoyable experience. Stories of Kevin Ball, the tight-knit squad Reid had assembled, the play-off and title-winning seasons, the 4-1 demolition of Chelsea, and the two top seven finishes that followed; our best league positions since the war. Such stories transported me back to those happier times following Sunderland AFC.
You begin to think that it will all last forever; taking it for granted almost - and before you know it, up in smoke it goes.
I have always liked the honest, no-nonsense, no punches pulled approach of Peter Reid as a manager, and Bobby Saxton certainly complimented him as his assistant in that respect. They were old school, and their methods certainly worked, rubbing off on each of the players. The squad would really play for Reid, strain every sinew come 3pm every Saturday. They all had the right mentality and attitude.
He was held in high regard by the Wearside faithful as he transformed the club after arriving at Roker Park. Beginning in a not too dissimilar position that we find ourselves now, Reid oversaw a massive transition to The Stadium of Light before eventually mixing it with the best in the Premier League.
I am also a firm believer that Chris Coleman is someone who pulls no punches when it comes to our current situation. Only words they may be, but I like the way he talks. He has been open and honest in his interviews and press conferences in his time at the club. He actually wants to be here, managing a club like ours. That aside he was - and still is - under no illusions when it comes to the size of the task that he has inherited.
The reason for me putting pen to paper is simple - it’s because this week I have read and heard various murmurings, criticisms if you like, bubbling beneath the surface within our fan base, that quite frankly I find ridiculous.
The discontent I speak of is that being aimed at the manager.
We are an intelligent set of footballer supporters. We don’t shout to the high heavens that we have a given right to dine at football’s top table in the Premier League like some clubs do. We know that financial mismanagement and years of bad player recruitment and woeful decision making at boardroom level has resulted in where we now find ourselves: staring at a stint in the third tier for the first time since the 1987-88 season and what would be for only the second time in the club’s history.
For some of our fans to now point their fingers at the manager and lay blame at his doorstep is crazy. People are allowed their opinions - that is the beauty of our beloved game - but opinions can be emphatically disagreed with. I’m in no way suggesting that (should we by the grace of God survive this season) Chris Coleman should be held in the same company as the aforementioned Peter Reid, such is the legacy the amiable Scouser built in his time here. However, given the circumstances, staying afloat this campaign would be some achievement because, as we are all fully aware, this squad is simply not good enough to compete week in week out at Championship level.
“We are no better off than under Grayson, the league table proves it!” some say. But, how can we be better off when bodies have been brought in to pad the squad out without making any massive improvements? Working on a budget of next to nothing is exactly the same as working with your hands tied behind your back.
Lewis Grabban, Didier Ndong, and James Vaughan couldn’t find the exit door quick enough, and the Jack Rodwell situation has continued to worsen. Significant investment is required to achieve improvement on the pitch.
As expected, however, no funds have been given to Coleman to strengthen the squad, and he has somewhat inevitably had to rely on young, inexperienced loanees from the top flight, or take a punt on an older player no longer needed by their parent club. It is a vicious circle that has dragged on for far too many years and we shouldn’t been too surprised at where we currently find ourselves. When put into perspective, it is an unenviable position to be put in as a football manager.
Whatever happens come the end of the season I’ll still remain 100% behind the manager. His stock was high when he took on arguably the most poisoned of chalices in English football after agreeing to come to Wearside. Coleman does not strike me as the type of man to walk away; I believe he is made of much sterner stuff.
The uncertainty surrounding the very future of the club and Ellis Short’s commitment to find a buyer leaves more questions than it answers. Sunderland AFC are in turmoil, both on and off the pitch at the moment. We have thirteen cup finals to go, and we need everyone pulling in the right direction, not digging Coleman out for this and that.
He is absolutely desperate to find that winning formula, so if you want to vent your anger, direct it towards Martin Bain and Ellis Short. Direct it at the players who couldn’t care less about Sunderland AFC. Chris Coleman is desperate to somehow turn things around, and that starts this Saturday at home to Middlesbrough. We need to make sure we back him all the way.