I moved to America in 2014 after meeting my wife during a summer spent working in Pennsylvania. I’ve subsequently spent the last three-and-a-half years struggling to make myself understood as the dulcet, honeyed, mellifluous tones of the Mackem accent consistently fail to resonate with the American ear.
During my time in the States, I’ve adopted Philadelphia teams as my go-to for who to support. My wife’s from that neck of the woods, and her entire family are Philadelphia mad - ergo, I was essentially coerced into my loose loyalty. That support was affirmed as I sat beer in hand watching an Eagles pre-season game surrounded by fanatics - “canny team this”, I thought to myself before turning to ask my wife for her consensus on the matter. A short laugh of derision followed as she informed me they’d never won the Super Bowl and certainly didn’t look like they would anytime soon.
As such, loosely following the Philadelphia teams has been quite a simple task alongside supporting Sunderland as we’ve both been perennially rubbish. I guess you could say it’s been comforting in a weird way to have another set of teams there to let me down.
That being said, after several years of hurt the Eagles’ misery evaporated on Sunday night as the side won their first ever Super Bowl. As I sat watching the match, beer in hand once more, I found myself supporting the winning side for once, and if I’m totally honest it all felt incredibly alien and somewhat difficult to comprehend. My wife was up on her feet screaming and shouting while I remained seated - happy, of course, just not quite sure what to do.
I must make note here that I am by no means a die-hard American sports aficionado. I don’t follow Philadelphia teams anywhere near as religiously as I do Sunderland. I don’t go out of my way to read hourly news updates on the teams. I don’t spend hours reading over old articles and viewing videos about the club. I don’t spend a disproportionate amount of my day pondering the team’s future and current situation in writing. I don’t huff and puff to my wife about the issues clouding the club. I watch a game if it’s on, and I watch the highlights if they pop up on my Twitter feed. I’m a fair-weather fan.
That being said, as The Eagles’ momentum began to increase over the course of the season, I’ve become gradually more intrigued by the team. In turn, I’ve read more about the club (or organization in yankee lingo) where I have found some surprising similarities and differences between the Eagles’ winning side and our own struggling mob.
The Eagles are owned by an American billionaire (obviously) named Jeffrey Lurie who bought the club back in 1994 for $185 million. Today the club is estimated to be worth around $2.5 billion, and Lurie continues to steer the ship as owner. Sunderland too are owned by an American billionaire, though his stewardship hasn’t come close to providing healthy financial progress.
The disparity in finances is as much to do with the fiscal might of the NFL as it is to do with Lurie’s financial acumen, yet Lurie certainly deserves some credit for the position his side find themselves in.
The same cannot be said for Mr. Short, our own Yankee at the helm, who has governed the club during an age of unheralded Premier League wealth - including £100 million for finishing bottom of the pile last season - yet somehow has watched on as hundreds of millions of pounds worth of debt have been added to the club with reckless abandon.
How long until the club recover from his gross mismanagement and lack of responsibility? Will we ever?
On the topic of responsibility, one could argue that the actions of those at the top of the hierarchy go a tremendous way to influencing those below them.
Jeffrey Lurie has taken flack in the past - after all, he and the Eagles fans have had to wait twenty-four years for a Super Bowl win under his stewardship - but ultimately he holds the respect of those around him as explained by a key player in Sunday’s win, Zach Ertz:
This guy’s been doing everything he possibly could in his power to get this for Philly. The guy was longing for a Super Bowl. All he cared about was bringing a championship to Philly. This is a great owner to play for. He cares so much about his players. It’s a family, not an organization. He worked for this, and he earned it.
How many Sunderland players would same the same of Ellis Short? I’m not necessarily trying to paint the Eagles’ owner as some sort of saint as I’m sure many would argue he’s made many mistakes in the past. Yet, ultimately, Lurie inspires confidence and belief in his players with his actions and attitude.
Short, on the other hand, has made a handful of media appearances since his tenure started, and in his last interview stated:
I’m a fan. I know how the fans feel. I know why they are not happy.
It would be great if there was something I could say that would make everything better, but the reality is that is not going to be better until we do better on the pitch.
That’s the important thing.
Although I understand the frustration, I hope that all of us can focus on that.
This is a man who has moved back to America recently and has attended no more than a handful of games across the last two years of his ownership. How can he claim to understand the plight of the fans? Ellis Short has distanced himself from the club both physically and mentally, if he was as pained as he suggests then he’d be on Wearside desperately searching for an answer to our woes.
Instead, that job is now the remit of Martin Bain - hired to attempt to clean up Short’s mess. A man who has implemented austerity-driven measures in an attempt at steadying the club. A man whose first season as de-facto Chairman ended in relegation, and whose second season could very likely go the same way. Not exactly awe-inspiring.
If truth be told, Short used to be viewed with a sense of respect. An absent owner providing funds without questions asked - he seemed the perfect fit. However, fans have subsequently realized that detachment as folly. Did Short know enough about the sport to adequately assess the value of these deals? Likely not. Did he have someone in an influential capacity to advise him on such deals? De Fanti and Congerton’s ill-fated stints as Directors of Football speak for themselves - the answer is: no.
Subsequently, Short has been burned by his careless undertakings and has distanced himself further and further from his now irritating venture, choosing absence over structured involvement.
American football’s inclusion of the General Manager role has enabled Lurie to rely on a guiding voice in terms of his ownership of the Eagles. The GM functions much like a Director/Director of Football in that they handle transfers and contractual negotiations, with Howie Roseman the Eagles’ man in the hot-seat.
That being said, a rough patch under ex-manager Chip Kelly saw Lurie decide to step up his involvement with the day-to-day running of the club. Why? Because despite past mistakes, he told those close to him that he wanted to: “take back the team.”
Lurie began to visit the changing-rooms more often, pre and post game. He gave rousing speeches in times of need (and danced in victory!); he took a more active role with the media during the season itself - something he’d refrained from doing in the past. Lurie consulted with his team and identified the need to bring in an exciting young quarterback, so they traded their way to acquiring Carson Wentz - who was injured for the Super Bowl final, incidentally, yet set his side on the path to victory.
Lurie analyzed every little issue plaguing his team and recognized that he needed to increase his presence during this difficult time in order for the team to succeed. He needed to incite change. He needed to lead his club.
Subsequently a sort of trickle down effect has seen Lurie’s leadership skills, determination and drive for success inspire his players and staff all the way to the sport’s biggest prize.
“I’m always ... I think what I try to be is very hands on,” Lurie said in an interview once, “and not very public about it.”
Could Ellis Short proclaim to be either of those things? It’s not a particularly difficult question.