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SHORT OUT: ‘Red & White Army’ speak after garnering 10,000 signatures from Sunderland supporters

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Having reached the impressive milestone of 10,000 signatures for their petition asking that Ellis Short sells Sunderland as a matter of urgency, ‘Red & White Army’ speak to Roker Report about where things go from here.

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RR: Over TEN THOUSAND people have signed your petition, with it receiving considerable attention in the media and amongst the fanbase. Are you happy with that return, or do you think we could do with an extra push to get as many people on board as possible?

RAWA: I think 10,000 is a respectable enough number and we’re pleased it’s had the attention from the media and that supporters are talking about it, whether they support it or not. I think it’s important to note what spawned it’s launch in the first place. We’re a fledgling supporters group who were created with the primary aim, at least in these initial stages, of creating the foundations for structured dialogue with the Club (we’ve made solid progress on this).

However, as a group we could not ignore the noise and debates around some sort of protest or demo. One of the co-opted reps brought up the subject and this was debated by the other co-opted reps and officers. Did we feel there needs to be some sort of organised protest? What format would this take? Should RAWA lead it? Like the wider fanbase at the time there were different views, but a consensus was reached on launching a petition. If we had not been able to reach a positive consensus we would have put the question to our members in the form of a survey. I suspect that might not have been conclusive though such was the split in supporter opinion.

Since the petition was launched we’ve had unconfirmed reports from national and local media that Ellis Short will now sell for nothing. With the amount of debt involved it might still be a challenge to find a buyer. However, the last public statement from our owner was that Sunderland AFC is no longer for sale. The third thing the petition requests is transparency form the owner. We’ve still not had that from him or by way of an official club statement.

In theory that means the petition is still “alive” but of course the unconfirmed stories took the wind out of it’s sails. The signatures were flying in until those stories did the rounds.

I’m also firmly of the belief that the petition has served another purpose. Before its launch there were circular debates all over social media, message boards and blogs on the merits, or otherwise, of arranging a demonstration or protest before a game. The petition has provided an outlet for supporter frustration and we’ve had some great comments from fans. It’s allowed supporters to illustrate that they’re not apathetic about our plight and they do care. I think there’s a lot of value in that.

So despite unofficial reports, supporters do need to remember the Club have not communicated to the fan base that the club is for sale to anyone prepared to take on the debt.

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RR: Having had some time to process the comments made from supporters who both have and haven’t signed the petition, what do you believe the consensus to be with regards to ownership and how we, as fans, move forward?

RAWA: We’re in a strange position as supporters. We’ve seen a gradual decline and it now feels like we’re falling off a cliff. I think most supporters recognise that Ellis Short hasn’t been an “evil owner”; the kind that some other clubs have suffered recently where attempts have been made to change the Club’s identity or to asset strip. At the same time I think the majority of fans would agree it’s unforgivable to seemingly lose interest and issue brutal and blinkered austerity measures.

These are measures that have had a huge impact on not just the playing squad but the general running of the club in all areas. It very much feels like a club in limbo and on it’s knees. Now that it seems apparent Short is actually trying to sell it doesn’t feel like there is an appetite to protest. Things change though. As a supporters group we’ll continue to push for clarity and transparency from the Club and we will keep listening to supporters.

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RR: What’s the plan beyond this petition?

RAWA: Supporters need a voice more than ever. Red and White Army will continue to doggedly pursue the process of Structured Dialogue and we’re expecting the date of the next meeting with the Club to be announced soon. We’ll be inviting Ellis Short but I’d be surprised if he turns up.

At our first meeting with Martin Bain on 16th January we took away an action to cement how future meetings would work (with attendance from four other supporter groups). We’ve since produced a Terms of Reference that all the groups agreed to very quickly. For RAWA’s part we’ll be canvassing supporters (members and none members) so that we can help to set an agenda that most fans can relate to. We’ll do our best to get straight answers and we won’t be push-overs.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

RR: What would you say to anyone who isn’t sure about signing it, or thinks it’s a daft idea?

RAWA: I completely understand why someone might think it’s daft if the owner already wants out and is trying to sell. When we launched the petition the last official word from the club was SAFC had been taken off the market. To the best of my knowledge that is still the case.

So to anyone who has not signed it I would say take note of the third aim of the petition - “In the meantime, we ask for transparency, honesty and regular communication between the owner and supporters.”

And also, they might find the act cathartic.