New Sunderland owner Steward Donald is an intriguing character that will incite a great deal of discussion among Sunderland fans in the coming days.
Moving from senior management at an insurance firm to buying businesses with a close friend and colleague, Donald eventually ventured into the world of football when he became involved with Eastleigh FC - the club he has decided to sell in order to take up the position as Sunderland’s head honcho.
During his time with the Hampshire club Eastleigh have seen solid progress, with attendance figures rising to an impressive level with thanks to steady investment from their owner. Back in May of last year Donald invested £10 million into the club in order to facilitate further growth:
People say it’s unsustainable, but £10 million has gone into the club with zero debt. It’s either been gifted or transferred into shares. All the debts the club had been and the bank overdraft have gone.
We’re now sat here with record revenues, potentially season-ticket sales of 1,500 for next season, a fan base in the top-ten of non-league – and all without a pound of debt. We’re probably financially safer than any football club at this level.
We’ve built a proper football club too. Sometimes when a club grows, it can lose the feeling of togetherness and community, but I think we’ve made it stronger.
Yes, we’ve struggled this season (on the pitch), but the whole club has grown with disability, ladies’ teams etc. and we’re grabbing more of the community.
CLUB STATEMENT: Sunderland AFC to change ownership pic.twitter.com/REy00JBFsl— Sunderland AFC ⚪ (@SunderlandAFC) April 29, 2018
Donald’s comments on community pride and self-sustainable growth will be music to many fans’ ears, yet it is unlikely that he alone will be capable of instilling such change. Sunderland’s losses are enormous, and serious change is needed behind the scenes. Donald is but one member of an international consortium that have purchased the club, remember, and therefore will not be the sole investor.
That being said, Eastleigh FC have nothing but praise for a man that has taken their club into the National League, where they remain competitive despite some turmoil on the pitch in the last couple of seasons:
The club’s support is wholly appreciative of a man whose personal commitment and financial backing has made possible the seismic transformation to their fortunes. Most, however, will be entirely unaware of how lucky they are that Donald came to take control of the Spitfires – for his original intention when he decided to increase his football involvement was rather more modest than what actually transpired.
It’s clear to see that Donald certainly seems to be an astute businessman with a keen eye for generating revenue and growth; however, Eastleigh’s recent managerial troubles should be noted - the club having gone through four gaffers since last season.
Of course, Stewart Donald won’t be the sole charge leading our club, and over the course of the coming days more information will emerge shedding light on the other members of the group that have purchased the club from Ellis Short.
Donald has also been involved with Oxford United - a team he invested in. However, moving forward he will have to relinquish his role at Eastleigh due to dual ownership rules preventing him from owning two clubs in England.
Recently, Donald was asked by the media as to whether he would be interested in purchasing Sunderland, and his response was interesting to say the least:
It is extremely unlikely anything will happen but if remotely something did happen it would mean I would have to let Eastleigh go but it would have to be an absolutely sensational deal for that to be the case.
I have put an awful lot of hard work and money into Eastleigh and I have ambitions of getting them in the Championship.
If for any reason this deal looks different to all the others put on my desk, this club is debt free and run a certain way and there is no way on this earth I would ever jeopardise Eastleigh’s future over making some pounds somewhere else.
Fans will be intrigued as to what enabled this ‘unlikely’ deal to suddenly become so viable. Ellis Short suggested he had handed the club over debt free, yet he will likely have received money in exhange for the club whilst parachute payments and the recent land sale of the Charlie Hurley centre will also have generated income to help rid ourselves of a hefty external debt.
Donald’s words will leave many Sunderland fans optimistic of a man capable of bringing success to a club in dire need of direction.
His urge for, “realism, focus and dedication” are sore qualities we’ve lacked in recent times, and his claims of restructuring the club in order to make is sustainable will also be welcomed by many.
Ultimately, Donald’s suggestion that the club needs to “restore its sense of pride and re-connect it with the local community,” will of course be welcomed by all.
Many will hope that this new group will bring with them an ownership model that will benefit a club that has struggled in recent years. Donald’s words are promising, yet as Sunderland fans are all too painfully aware: actions speak far louder than words.