At the time, we were in Sunderland’s zenith. Fans basked in the sunlight of the club’s second longest-ever top flight run; 10 consecutive seasons. This was only bettered by the run of 67 years accumulated from 1891-1958, when the ‘Bank of England’ club were forcibly relegated after years of corruption.
Football is a game of cycles, as even the most successful of clubs inevitably experience numerous years of success and failure over time. Our current plight is teetering on the edge in our current cycle; survive and we may be able to turn it around long-term, get relegated into League One and we will quite literally be at our nadir. Statistically the lowest ebb in 139 years of history - joint with 1987.
But just how have we found ourselves in this state? An interesting trend leaps out when researching the period of 2006-2018 from a statistical standpoint to figure out the answer to this question - the aforementioned ten-year stint in the Premier League and each year in the Championship sandwiching the run.
We are currently 23rd in the Championship with relegation to League One looking likely. This season’s average attendance at the Stadium of Light of 27,713, is the lowest since 2006/07 (25,770). We are the only side not to pick-up a series of wins in a row (two or more) and have gained just 4 points all season from a losing position, while dropping 16 points from a winning position this season.
Including this campaign, over the last 5 seasons, Sunderland have played 182 ((38*4)+30) weeks of football. During this time, we have spent a grand total of 5(!) weeks in the top half of either the Premier League or Championship.
111 of these 182 weeks have been spent in the relegation zone. Last season, we spent zero weeks in the top half and 36 in the relegation zone. We were 20th for 16 of these weeks, including all the way from Match Day 22-38.
Grim reading, right?
Well, it only gets worse. If you analyse the last five years of our demise in the Premier League (2012-17), and juxtapose this with the first five of this run (2007-12), then a worrying trend stands out above any other.
The date that splits the two? 3rd October 2011 - in fact, this is just a few months from being the exact medium of the full aforementioned time period. On this day, Niall Quinn stepped down as Sunderland Chairman to take up a role “developing the club’s international links”, as Ellis Short took full control of the day-to-day running of the club - as majority shareholder, owner and chairman.
From 2007-12, we enjoyed a period of relative stability and prosperous football in the Premier League. Although the spectre of relegation always loomed on the horizon, in fact, it is the second-most successful spell of the club’s recent history, after those enigmatic and wondrous Reid years.
During this period the club’s average position was 13th in the table, winning 58 of 190 games at a respectable rate of 30%. Although on face value this may seem low, it must be remembered Sunderland were a newly-promoted team in a time when Premier League finances truly began to swell to their current position. This averages out at 1.12 points-per-game over the course of these 5 seasons, winning on average 12 games per-year as we went through “only” 3 full-time managers in 5 years.
Comparatively, from 2012-17, the club’s average position was 17th, and we won 40 in the same amount played - a win ratio of 20%. Just a 10% drop, but a crucial one which exponentially decreased over time. The 2016/17 Moyesian tragedy, a 5th new-manager in 5 years, resulted in just 6 wins all season (a paltry 15% win-rate) registering 0.63 points-per-game, one of the lowest in the history of the competition. Over the course of these five years, the points-per-game ratio slowly tumbled from 1.03, to 1.0 and then the aforementioned 0.63.
Under David Moyes we actually spent more weeks in the relegation zone (36) than the infamous 15-point season under Mick McCarthy and Kevin Ball (35). In fact, the trend over the last decade and more has been so grim, I decided to explore two questions;
When was the last time we had more wins than losses in Premier League?
2000/01: 15 wins, 12 draws, 11 losses.
...and the last time Sunderland registered a positive goal difference?
2000/01: 46 scored, 41 conceded.
Despite the grim read, a 10% drop and 0.2 drop in points per game doesn’t seem that much now does it? Well, take away per-match statistics, and focus on the weekly position.
From 2007-12, we spent just 11 weeks in the relegation zone. I repeat, just 11 in 5 years. This is 2.2 weeks per-year, while conversely spending 58 weeks in the top-half, 11.6 on average.
In direct contrast, from 2012-17 the club resided in the bottom three for 101 weeks in 5 years, spending just 4 in the top half in 5 years - an impressively horrendous rate of 0.02%.
However - despite all of this, the average attendance within the Stadium of Light actually grew from 37,736 throughout 07-12 to 38,902 from 12-17. This may be in part thanks to continued “freezes” on ticket prices, but those £19 Under-16 season cards under a decade ago remain strong in the memory. Regardless, the fact remains the same - Sunderland have constantly raked in more and more money, spending more and more through egregious mismanagement, yet the whole time the fans flocked in number.
This is why the apathy of 2017/18 has truly hit so hard - once you fall out of the Premier League, the rest of the nation simply doesn’t care anymore. Executives no longer turn-up to matches, free tickets cannot be given away to schoolkids, neutrals rarely click through the turnstile and attendances from both the home an away,end simply dwarf in number.
Since Ellis Short has taken over footballing matters, the club has had no footballing direction - simply left to flounder as a failing business with successive failing chief executives, directors of football and managers.
There is a clear exponential downward trend from the moment he moved into office as the sole majority shareholder, owner and chairman. The theory that Short has not spent is wrong, and so is any assumption that he is stealing money - it is abundantly clear just how much of his own personal fortune he has poured into the club. However, constant years of mismanagement has destroyed us as shown by such an evident drop in results, and position since 2012.
Club’s all around us have made the most of the record-breaking Premier League TV deal, reinforcing year-after-year through effective asset management, continued profitability and an solid transfer policy. Who'd ever thought Bournemouth could spend £18m on a defender, or manage to defeat Chelsea 3-0? In the last five years, have we ever seen any modicum of this sort bar the odd rare gem?
Constant sackings, poor signings weighed too heavily upon agent recommendations and an inability to sell at a profit has broken the club - the buck has to stop with Ellis Short, and rightly so. Year-on-year, new managers inherit dejected, loser-ridden squads of professionals on at least three-year contracts who are almost immediately unwanted and thus sold at a nominal fee in order to fund continued signings of players on three-year deals all while our one-year rolling managerial contract machine continues to spew out the best and worst through sacking (Bruce, O’Neill, Di Canio, Poyet & Grayson) resignation (Keane, Advocaat & Moyes) and promotion (Allardyce).
Ellis Short’s house is burning down around him, and the longer he stays pretending “this is fine”, the closer to oblivion the club falls.