Dear Roker Report
I‘m 41 now, my first Sunderland game was in the old third division and I’ve spent every season since on an emotional roller coaster. I have devoted a lot of my time and energy to this football club and I have always said that without the lows, we would not be able to appreciate the highs. I can’t wait for the payback we must surely be due for the sh*t we are taking at the minute.
I think it’s pretty clear we are as good as down now, the only question being: how much further down do we have to go before we find our level and then come back?
As much as I love football and this club of ours, I am not an expert tactician. I can’t work out what we need to do to put this right (as fans, players or coaches) as I can’t work out what the root problem is. That is the biggest worry I have. We have had coach after coach that, on paper, looks like they should be able to sort it out but we get worse.
Anyway, I didn’t intend to write that. After the game on Saturday I just wanted to get something out of my system. I think it was REM that asked ’I feel better having screamed don’t you?”
So, to my point.
I run an under 11s football team at grass roots level. I fell into it by mistake when my little boy didn’t get into a squad at U9 level and I was told that ten kids were in the same boat and they wouldn’t get a game unless they could find another coach to help out. I offered to wash strips and put the nets up and, boom, the next thing you know I found myself wearing a waterproof jacket with my initials on and tucking my tracksuit pants into my football socks.
One of the parents got in touch with me a few weeks back and asked me if I had seen a social media post from a coach at Sunderland Academy offering the chance for grass roots coaches to take in a training session at the academy of light. I dropped an email and got a really nice response back from the guy telling me that I was on the list.
I think there was about 40 grass roots coaches and they explained what it was all about. They told us that they really appreciate the hard work that we do at grass roots level and wanted to see what happens to the players that we might lose to an academy and give us something back.
We were given a handout showing the drills that we would be watching and a ideas that they would be focusing on and the progressions that would be made. We watched an hours training session with an under 9s team and an under 12s team and the coaches were absolutely superb. The drills were rapid, well organised and with a consistent theme and the standards was, as you would expect, absolutely top draw.
After the session, in the coaches own personal time, we were able to ask questions and get advice on how to work better with our teams. They could not have been more open, more honest and more helpful if they tried. The education set up is second to only one team in the country despite being on a much lower budget than the big lads.
The evening would have been first class if they had booted us out then and there but they then spent an hour showing us around the complex. I consider it a great privilege to have been shown around the inner workings of the academy and don’t want to break confidentially but we learnt a huge amount as they were every candid and the stories were fascinating, to see the other side of the all so to speak.
Again, this was the club opening their doors to us just to give us something back. To ask how they could help us. What can we do to make it easier for you? I have had text messages from someone the coaches and scouts since following up and telling us that they are there if I need anything.
I was buzzing on Friday night, I couldn’t sleep if thats not too shameful for a 41 year old to admit. I went to the game on Saturday, with my lad, feeling that we would win. We had to. The players have everything that they could possibly want on a plate for them. What more could the club provide for them? These are top level professionals, the corner has to be turned, and so why not today?
How wrong I was.
So, after a long ramble, what is my point? The club is on its knees right now but lets not lose our sh*t all together. They are doing some things right. The opening of their doors to the homeless and the season ticket pricing would be huge wins at most other times but they are lost in the general ill feeling right now.
The future looks bright to me. We appear to have a conveyor belt of talent coming through the system that, in the eyes of the coaches, we have only seen the beginning off with the likes of Pickford and Asoro.
The roots of the club are fine, they are solid in fact. Don’t let the lazy, shameful, spineless first team squad define this club. There are some amazing people in there doing an amazing job day in day out. One day it will come good and, when is does, we will have our day in the sun again.
Keep the faith lads and thanks for all the work you do on the podcast and website.
Ed’s note: Without a doubt the academy is one of the few lights in a long, bleak and dark tunnel. We’re blessed with state-of-the-art coaching and facilities at youth level, but year-in, year-out our academy prospects are either messed about or ignored at senior level.
Just take a look at Michael Ledger and Tommy Robson recently, and Conor Hourihane and Martyn Waghorn a bit farther back. Relegation into League One may be a disaster, but we’re a Premier League club, with Championship players (barely) and League One finances.
If we’re looking to get out of this rot, I agree - we need look no further than within, at Chris Coleman and the academy.