Are you really a Sunderland fan if you haven’t tuned into the mellifluous, rich tones of BBC Newcastle’s Sunderland AFC commentator Nick Barnes?
The tweed-clad gentleman is almost an institution in his own right with his magnificent pre-match artwork and open, honest style of reporting. Barnes isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions, and is much appreciated by the fans for his candid, uncontrived style.
So, after a wild week of speculation regarding Sunderland's future off the pitch, we turned to Nick in order to find some clarity on some interesting issues.
It’s a vital match @OfficialBWFC for @SunderlandAFC as Bolton face Aston Villa; Birmingham; Derby; Barnsley, Wolves and Burton in their last nine matches #squeakybumtime #safc pic.twitter.com/XmusfEZXs5— Nick Barnes (@Tweed_Barnesy) February 19, 2018
RR: Hi Nick, thanks for agreeing to speak with us. As many of us have read in recent days, Ellis Short seems keen to sell the club at a reduced price. What on earth is going on?
NB: It’s been well publicised for some time that Ellis Short has fallen out of love with the football club. Even Chris Coleman touched on it when he arrived and has been more vocal on the subject in recent weeks. When Short decided to move his family and business interests back to the States it became increasingly clear he would be looking to sell up and rid himself of an ‘interest’ which was clearly increasingly becoming a burden to him.
For a man of Short’s wealth and bearing in mind the money he has pumped into the club I don’t think ultimately the money is the biggest issue for him - I think, despite what fans say and write about his intentions, he is not as maverick in his intentions as many believe him to be. He’s a businessman though after all, and as such I think he is savvy enough to know that while he’s not now in it for the long term it is not serving his interests to keep hold of it, so selling asap makes complete business sense, even if technically it means a financial loss to him.
RR: The next question on many fans’ mind is: just how fast is this moving, if at all?
NB: Takeovers are historically not fast moving because of due diligence etc etc. Remember we’re talking about a business involving millions of pounds, so no potential investor wants to make mistakes.
As bleak as Sunderland’s season seems to be I do believe now that Short has greased the wheels of change, so to speak, things will start to gather pace. There’s no hurry in terms of what can be done this season obviously because the transfer window is shut but that time can be usefully served in seeking a buyer and sorting out the red tape in time for next season - whatever division Sunderland are in.
RR: On that note, do you think there will be interested parties when you consider our league position and financial situation?
NB: I believe there will be interest and personally I wouldn’t rule out another approach from the German consortium that were interested last summer. The club is still an attractive proposition in terms of its infrastructure and while the results on the pitch look uninviting the potential once the club overhauls the playing squad - which it will - and with the fan base the club has, even if it feels disenfranchised at the moment - will be a major appeal.
If anything, if Sunderland are relegated the investment needed to win promotion would in theory be a lot less than if they were looking to launch a promotion bid back to the Premier League, and as such it would allow a new owner time to reduce the debt, rebuild the club and construct a firmer foundation for a promotion bid from the Championship.
RR: As someone who’s spent a fair deal of time in the footballing world, are there any specifics about a potential sale you think we should focus on/be worried about as fans?
NB: Naturally while everyone welcomes a possible sale there are of course pitfalls. Would new owners understand the club, its history and its link with the City and community?
On the whole though, while any sale makes people wary of intent the club needs new blood and fresh investment. The situation it finds itself in now is unsustainable in the long run and so I whilst I would urge sensible, common sense caution, I would on the whole embrace any potential owner if they promise to invest and take the club forward.
RR: As an interesting parallel: do you think recent fan frustrations have played their part in hastening the process, or at least publicizing it?
While I’d like to think the recent petition and the anger of the fans across the board has been a catalyst, I think the reality is that Ellis Short was going, is going, whatever the frustrations and actions of the fans. He’s a strong minded individual and nothing much fazes him. It would take more than petitions and rage on social media to enrage him as much as we all like to think we can have an impact.
That’s not to say it’s wrong - as it gives the fans a voice and there’s nothing worse than apathy - but ultimately it’s akin to hollering down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo to bounce back.
Thanks to Nick for affording us his time and thoughts, and remember if you’re not at the match you can listen in to BBC Newcastle's coverage with Nick Barnes and Gary Bennett on the wireless - 95.4FM.