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Inside track on what new SUNDERLAND owner Stewart Donald is like from someone that knows him

Ian Wilder, BBC Radio Solent’s match-day summariser for Eastleigh FC - the former club of Stewart Donald - dropped by to chat with us about what Sunderland can expect from our new owner.

Eastleigh FC

RR: Did you fear that Stewart Donald would leave when the rumours started last week?

IW: Stewart joined me for commentary last weekend, bur prior to that he told me that there might be something in it (investing in Sunderland). When he came on last weekend, it had changed slightly as he had asked to be an investor but did not think it would happen unless it was a sensational offer. It came a bit out of the blue really. It has obviously developed since then - he is leading the consortium!

Down here there is a feeling of what could have been. But what he has said is that he will leave the club is far better condition, debt free and the club is sustainable. The income is around £2.5 million a year so we can still compete at the top of the Conference. It is one of those that when he leaves Sunderland he will leave them in a far healthier position.

RR: Does he have the money to look after a club the size of Sunderland?

IW: I think he does but he never really brought up how much money he has got. What he has done is invest over £10 million in Eastleigh over six years.

What he told us in the past is that he wanted to get Eastleigh into the Championship and he would give them one of the highest budgets in League One. He would be doing that with a 3,000 crowd, so imagine what he could do with a 40,000 crowd?

RR: Did you think he was going to stay for longer?

IW: It came out the blue. I thought he would be there for a much longer time than he was. I thought he would try to get us into the Championship and then leave for a new challenge.

He has always had big plans for the ground and the plan was eventually to have a 8,500 capacity stadium and build everything else around it. He kept saying he was determined to get Eastleigh as high up the football league ladder as possible.

Eastleigh FC v Swindon Town - The Emirates FA Cup First Round Photo by Harry Murphy/Getty Images

RR: What is he like as an owner?

IW: He is one of these chairman where he lets the manager do what he wants to do. He lets them choose the squad and transfers. But he is hands on. He speaks to the manager a few times every day. Former manager Richard Hill would say he would speak to him all times of day.

He will give the manager space to do what he wants to do.

RR: Has he got a style of manager he likes?

IW: Not particularly. When you look at the managers he has had in the past he has had 4-5 managers. He went for a different approach every time. Firstly Richard Hill who was great and got us into the Conference and then challenging for promotion. We then hired Chris Todd, that was his first ever job and He was totally different.

Next we hired Ronnie Moore who has got 30 years experience, he liked to play football. We then brought in Martin Allen who again is totally different.

Now we have Andy Hessenthaler. So he does not have a particular approach to a manager. He just wants the best option there at the time.

Eastleigh FC v Swindon Town - The Emirates FA Cup First Round Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

RR: Do you think this is good news for Sunderland?

IW: Eastleigh supporters are absolutely devastated he is leaving the club. Eastleigh’s loss is definitely Sunderland’s gain. Sunderland are obviously struggling and needed a change and this has come at the perfect time for the club.

At Eastleigh success was not immediate but it did come eventually. So maybe it will take him a couple of seasons to truly sort the mess out at the club.

Ultimately the fact that Sunderland has a huge fan base, training and stadium facilities he can focus purely on the playing side of things.

Whatever he says to the Sunderland fans he will deliver.

RR: What is his involvement with Oxford?

IW: They are his boyhood team but he could only take a 10% share because of football league rules. He goes to Oxford games as well as Eastleigh ones. He has always wanted to be involved and he has tried to buy them before.

He has always said that Oxford is his main love.

PA Images via Getty Images

RR: What is he like as a person?

IW: He is very passionate. Everything he says he delivers. He even joins us for live commentary and he has done about eight times now. He answers everything honestly. He does not beat around the bush and he is transparent.

He held fan forums twice a year and every question asked of Stewart Donald he would give an honest answer. He would make fans feel optimistic as they left these meetings.

RR: How’s his relationship with the supporters?

IW: He was really involved in the community here. He’d go to away games with the fans and sit with the supporters on the terracing and share a drink with them. He knows the away fans on a personal basis. He gets involved with social media questions and is a chairman who is available to the fans.

He does get involved in the community and the supporters and anything he can do to improve the community spirit and atmosphere of the area he does.

RR: How has he transformed your club?

IW: Whatever he says he will do - he does. He is not one of those people who says things that are too good to be true because he always does them.

The best example is the stadium. He came in and the crowds were 200 and the ground was lower Conference South standard. Now he has built a proper stadium and people are coming in. We have the cheapest season tickets in the top five leagues. He also offers free tickets four games per season - free for everyone.

Crowds have risen from 200 to 2,500 and we can get up to 3,000. He has built up the fan base and cares more about filling the stadium than the ticket revenue. He wanted to build the fanbase of the club and he did.

More than that though he also offers free travel to away games for supporters.

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