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FIVE THINGS: Positive step in the right direction as CEO Martin Bain meets Sunderland supporters

Here are the five big takes from Sunderland AFC’s meeting with supporters to discuss key issues surrounding the club - and, for once, it would seem that some positive steps are being taken in order to get fans back on side.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

There’s uncertainty over the ownership situation

When asked about whether lessons had been learned from the last two seasons - i.e. regarding lack of spending and how the club has plummeted as a result - Martin Bain re-affirmed that if a sale does not go through this summer, Ellis Short will continue to fund the shortfall in operating costs but may not necessarily change his stance on investing in the playing squad.

Bain also confirmed that the club are working hard on a potential sale, and that interested groups have gone as far as to go through the due diligence process. He stated that the price the club is up for sale for is dependent on a number of things, but in some cases may include the land which surrounds the stadium.

And, whilst this is nothing new to us, he also made it clear that Ellis Short is actively trying to sell the club and will continue to fulfill his commitment to running it until he sells it.

My big take from all of this is that we’re still not that far down the line in terms of the ownership situation, and for me that’s likely due to the fact that our league status still hasn’t been decided yet. Once our path is confirmed it means potential owners can begin to diligently assess the situation they’ll be walking into.

The uncertainty does worry me slightly though, as is the fact that Bain was clear that we might run into issues if the club isn’t sold. It’s not unsurprising news, but it’s still maddening - and perhaps shows that, despite telling us otherwise last year in his interview following the sacking of Simon Grayson, that Ellis Short is not as committed to the building of the club as he once suggested.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Louise Wanless is back

Her name might not be one that many supporters are familiar with, but Louise Wanless is a key figure behind the scenes at the club and it was interesting to note her presence at the meeting, thus confirming her return to work after a considerable amount of time off.

In her absence, much of Louise’s role was assumed by the return of Adam Capper, who had previously left the club to take up a job at West Ham United. He was also present at the meeting, and their current roles within the club infrastructure were re-affirmed at the top of the meeting by new Head of Supporter Engagement, Steve Neill.

Whilst Adam Capper remains the Senior Football PR Officer, Louise has taken on the role of ‘strategic advisor to the board’.

At a key time in which relations between fans and the club need to be clear, open and honest it will be interesting to see what approach is taken publicly, particularly on the subject of ownership.

Hopefully common sense prevails and supporters are kept in the loop - well, as much as we can be - regarding potential takeovers across the summer, much like we were last. In order to avoid needless speculation and rumour it’s important that vital details are relayed where necessary, so how that plays out once the season ends will be interesting to see.

Wanless, pictured centre, has returned back to work
Getty Images

The club are looking into moving away supporters

After a question arose about the potential for moving away supporters from the upper tier down to the lower bowl, Steve Neill confirmed that doing so isn’t something that is off the table. It was added that the prospect of doing so is something that the club would consider in order to help improve the atmosphere in the Stadium, which has undoubtedly suffered since they were re-located in 2012.

Of course logistically this can cause a number of issues, and Neill admitted that talks would need to take place with the Police and the Safety Advisory Group, as well as consideration given to the problems it could cause with ticketing.

Martin Bain appeared supportive of the idea if it was felt that it was something that supporters wanted, and asked that a consensus was taken quickly if this was something that was going to be put into place soon.

This will be pleasing news to many match-going supporters, particularly those that used to enjoy the ribbing and banter that came with goading away fan that were sat near by back in the day during games.

There’s absolutely no doubting that the re-location of away fans six years ago has contributed to the poor atmosphere within the ground, and with the top bowl of the stadium being inaccessible to home supporters from the start of next season it makes very little sense when talking about atmosphere to keep away fans up there.

Photo by Steve Drew - EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Group being formed to decide on club merchandise

Another gripe that was raised was regarding the negative reaction last season to the home strip, which was viewed by many as nontraditional and, well, just not very nice.

As such the club supported the idea of forming a sub-group to discuss merchandise, and suggested different ways in which fans can have a say in what kits we use going forward. A simple vote for fans to take part in was suggested - something I’m fairly sure would be welcomed, particularly by the people who feel strongly about such matters.

It makes sense that supporters get a say in what kits the team wear, particularly since they’re the ones the club are relying on to purchase them and, in turn, generate much needed revenue. It’s been some time since a large section fans were asked for their opinion on potential kit ideas and if this is something that can be put in place ahead of next season then it’ll mark a small yet warranted step in the right direction, particularly since the last effort massively split opinion amongst the fanbase.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The club are open to fan representation on the Board

Dave Rose of the RAWA group asked if the club would consider appointing a supporter’s representative to the board, something which Martin Bain agreed to in principle.

Whilst nothing was set in stone it’s good to hear the club are so open to the idea of a fan taking up a place on the board, though whether this is actually followed through remains to be seen.

It would be fair to suggest that had fans had a representative at board level in recent years there are decisions that may have came under more heavy scrutiny before being actioned, and at such a pivotal stage in our history it’s key that fans feel their views are being not only represented but put into place where necessary.

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