Dear Roker Report,
Well, that was the season that was - or wasn’t, whichever way you want to look at it. A season in which the club surpassed itself, but for all the wrong reasons, something surely the most pessimistic of SAFC fans couldn’t really have envisaged, even allowing for the previous campaign’s rather tame surrender to relegation from the Premier League. I guess Sunderland AFC can be compared to the proverbial ‘old banger’, which in spite of several repairs/attempts to patch it up, has finally ‘clapped out’.
Granted, no club, no matter how big, small, famous or whatever has a divine right to be successful, or even to remain in a certain League/Division, as other former ‘giants’ such as Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Wolves to name but three will no doubt testify. All these three clubs have experienced third tier football in the not-too-distant past, but were their own downfalls due to the sort of willful negligence which seems to have been the norm for too long now at The Stadium Of Light, and which has resulted in the utterly disgraceful state that Sunderland AFC currently finds itself in, at least in terms of it’s League performances/placing.
I don’t think anyone expected miracles of sorts, all factors considered, but at the very least surely it was possible to ‘steady the ship’ as it were? I seem to recall someone saying that, optimistic as it seemed, that we’d get out of The Championship in 2017-18, though perhaps no-one asked in which direction!
Season 2017-18 saw the same old ‘trends’ in evidence, i.e. squandered leads, some spineless performances, and at times just general garbage on the pitch, while of course a new club record (if that is indeed the correct word to use) has been set, i.e. back-to-back relegations for the first time ever - I guess it could only happen at Sunderland AFC. To say that we are a “comedy act” is a bit of an understatement to say the least, as our once-proud club has become a complete and utter laughing stock, not just within the British game, but doubtless worldwide just to add insult to injury.
Even our previous demotion to England’s third tier way back in 1987 doesn’t quite compare in the same light, for at least then our fate ‘went to the wire’ as it were, and our side displayed a bit of character and fight, certainly in the play-off game v Gillingham at Roker. But sadly, as we all know only too well, it proved to be a case of too little, too late, for the damage inflicted for most part during he-who-is-best-not-named’s ill-fated era proved beyond repair, too much for even the mercurial Bob Stokoe to overcome. And it seems that history of sorts has repeated, with the last decade, in all truth a non-event, having set the club back, and culminating in the rather tame, pathetic slide into the backwaters of League 1. It never rains but it pours as they say.
The last ten years or so have seen countless managers come and go at an alarming rate, many millions wasted on players who weren’t up to scratch (some of whom in fact would have been an embarrassment to a local Sunday League side), while the appointment of the likes of Byrne, Congerton and Di Fanti were just a shade controversial to say the least. But everyone directly connected with the club, whether that be the hierarchy, players or manager, must carry a share of the blame for the alarming decline of a once-proud club. Indeed, the claim that Chris Coleman never so much as once communicated with Ellis Short does say an awful lot, for surely a sound chairman/manager relationship is key to success at any club?
Perhaps a lot of the aforementioned issues are really just the tip of the iceberg, with the rot seemingly running a lot deeper/having worsened with the passing of each season, culminating in the current sorry mess in which Sunderland AFC finds itself. In fact, to associate football and Sunderland at present does tend to be a bit of a sick joke, the tag of Sunderland AFC supporter just a shade embarrassing to say the least.
What then of Sunderland AFC’s fortunes in the immediate future? It all seems a bit of a blur at present, and the most pressing task is surely to stop the rot/put the club back on an even keel, although at least one positive step has been taken with Ellis Short having finally managed to sell the club, something which will have come as a relief to most (if not all) of us. However, I must admit that Chris Coleman’s departure did come as a bit of a shock, for I felt he may have at least been given the chance to try and lead us back to The Championship, regardless of who the new owners were. A shade harsh maybe, but that’s football I guess, sometimes a shade unpredictable to say the least.
But, looking forward again, I sincerely hope (no doubt along with many others), that we have onboard now a regiment who GENIUNELY mean business, i.e. they have a clear plan, strategy, call-it-what-you-like in mind to not only halt the current slide, but also to provide a solid base with a view to future progress, and, dare I say, possibly even see us achieve some LONG OVERDUE success.
It won’t necessarily be an easy task, in fact, in view of the damage done over the last decade or so, patience may well be the order of the day. However, lets now hope that all the false dawns, promises of the past are just that, things of the past, and that we can all look towards a brighter future. And in view of Chris Coleman’s departure, it will be very interesting to see who now ends up taking on what has become the “poisoned chalice” of English football, and I for one wish whoever he may be all the luck in the world. For clearly a massive job awaits him, not only to reinvigorate the playing side of matters, but also to appease a set of fans who have, to say the least, been short-changed (pun intended) over the last few years.
League One will be uncharted territory for some fans (at least those not old enough to have experienced first-hand our previous taste of England’s third tier way back in 1987-88), what with first-ever League meetings v Accrington, Fleetwood and one or two others, participation in the first round of the FA Cup, and possible midweek journeys to Southend or the like. However, can a spell in League One, even if it was (hopefully not) for more than one season, be any worse than what we’ve had to endure over the last decade or so, if it meant the chance to re-build, re-group, and more crucially, see an attractive, committed, winning side in action?
I seem to recall someone once telling me that in our last spell of Third Division football way back in 1987-88, at least half of the other Third Division clubs had their best gate when Sunderland were the visitors, perhaps not surprising seeing as we have one of the most loyal fanbases around, who’ve stuck with the club through thick and thin (perhaps more of the latter). So with that in mind, and in spite of having been ‘put through the wringer’ (to use another analogy of sorts) in recent years, I hope that the fans do stay loyal next season, and that whichever group of players are representing us respond to the backing they receive in the best possible way. Then, fingers-crossed, it will be a happy and more profitable time for all concerned. The current scenario is a bit hard to contemplate, but hopefully, our latest experience with England’s third tier will once more prove to be brief. We can but hope (as always).
Ed’s Note [Alex]: A thoroughly enjoyable read there, Andrew. I think I speak for everyone else reading this article when I say you’ve recounted the misery of our past failings perfectly and your hopeful look to the future will be echoed by every fan affiliated with SAFC.
Your point about our upcoming spell in League One is something that resonated with me too. Even if we didn’t bounce back from the third tier immediately, a season of stability in which we watched a likable team win games on a consistent basis would be a vast improvement on anything we’ve had to endure over the last couple of years.
Surely, even the most staunch pessimist would have to say that the only way is up from here. I sincerely believe that Stewart Donald will have both a coherent plan and the club’s best interests at heart - let’s hope those good times and long overdue successes are finally on the horizon!