I’ve been around the block a bit. I’m 51 and have supported Sunderland since I was 13.
Why not earlier, you might ask? Well I was a bit itinerant in my childhood, moving from Darlington to Washington to Humberside all before the age of 12. Then we settled back in Washy when I was 13.
At the lunchtime kick-about in my new school, it was Sunderland fans against Newcastle fans - Washington being half-and-half in 1979. The Sunderland fans were a man down, so I played on their side. Such are the small margins where life-defining decisions are made.
I’ve watched the team through thick and (mostly) thin. But they’ve always been my team. The fans are our fans and I’m immensely proud to support the club.
I was proud when Niall Quinn cobbled together an Irish consortium to take control of the club. Finally, I thought, the club is in control of someone who knows and identifies with the passion of the fans.
Then, the disastrous (as hindsight now shows us) decision to sell the controlling stake to Ellis Short, a then little know US financier. The writing soon became daubed on the wall when Roy Keane walked out on the club, not able to work with the man. Quinn tried to smooth the waters... but then Quinn too eventually left.
Non-football people were put in charge with seeming impunity, and the club has been staring into the abyss ever since.
There have been chinks of light, like our trip to Wembley in 2014 (God, that seems a long time ago now). But since Ellis Short took over ten years ago, the club has been teetering.
Episodes upon episodes demonstrate the contempt the owner has towards the club, its fans and the area.
Which fully functioning organisation would do the following?
- Employ a young lawyer to be CEO with little or no experience within football;
- Insist on continuing to play a player who knew he had committed terrible offences with an underage girl;
- Hire a manager whose fascist links were questionable.
These are three of a litany of despicable actions which have occurred at Sunderland under the ownership of our current chairman, who quite clearly doesn’t give a sh*t about what appears to be happening to our football club. “Why he doesn’t just sell up and rid himself of the problem?” is the biggest question on my mind right now. It just defies logic.
One other chink of light has been the appointment of Chris Coleman as manager, but even he must be ruing the day he took the job knowing that he’d have no funds to spend. I saw a figure yesterday that the club has earned £600m in TV revenue since Short has been at the club, and still he is owed over £150m. This is gross incompetence.
In last week’s ITHICS column Mark Egan reasoned that a draw at Birmingham followed by a ‘winnable’ game at home to Ipswich should steady the ship. Well, those ships have sailed.
Coleman, however, remains upbeat - in public at least. He reckons he can turn it around. If he does he’ll deserve the ‘Manager of the Millennium award’, because in keeping Sunderland up he will have produced nothing short of a miracle.
And Ellis Short will owe him, big time. But he simply doesn’t care.