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ITHICS Fanzine: Sunderland’s League One blueprint - what we NEED to do & learning from our past

The Tories are in power, Sunderland are in the third tier, ‘big names’ are clamouring to leave and we have no manager - welcome back to 1987.

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Another relegation. Managerless. Big money signings clamouring to leave. Financial problems and chaos in the boardroom. Newcastle, meanwhile, are safely ensconced in the top flight.

Yes, welcome to 1987 – the Tories are in power, seemingly forever, Elton John is on a retirement tour and .... history really does go round in circles.

But this time it’s different. Relegation in 1987 was a shock for us Sunderland fans, but not to the rest of the footballing world. Sunderland were just another fading giant, a setting sun, following the likes of Burnley (who nearly dropped out of the league in 1987), Bolton, Blackpool and Huddersfield over the horizon into lower league obscurity.

With our falling crowds (averaging just 13,000), crumbling stadium (some of which was demolished because of structural problems only five years earlier) and distant memories of success 50 years before, chances were we would never return.

Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

We’d become a staple of FA Cup third round day, should we ever get that far, with John Motson salivating over the great cup triumph of 1973 as we lost 3-0 at home to Watford in front of over 15,000, “the biggest crowd here for over a decade”.

This time relegation has sent shockwaves around the footballing world – how could such a big club, hardly out of the Premier League in the last quarter of a century – end up dumped in League One? What level of managerial ineptitude could have caused this calamity? No-one seems to doubt that we’ll be back, with Wolves the role model – six years away from the Premier League but now back as a real force, Sunday’s result notwithstanding – our blueprint.

One thing which hasn’t changed is the fans’ reaction to relegation.

On the Monday after we went down in 1987 someone daubed the doors into the gym block at my school in South Shields with the letters “FTM” – the first time I had come across this acronym. Strangely, the mostly Sunderland-supporting staff took their time to remove this message and it stayed in place for days. Kids roamed the corridors singing Sunderland songs, bursting into classrooms to shout “Sun-der-land!” We pulled together then and we’re doing it again. There’s some obscure grounds to get to next year and it’s going to be laugh.

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But there’s a couple of myths to dispel. First of all, it wasn’t a done deal that we’d go straight back up. No-one knew what to expect in the old third division and the first few weeks were tough. It wasn’t until Marco signed in the autumn that things really took off, but even then there were plenty of dodgy results – a thrashing at Bristol Rovers, for example, and an embarrassing reversal at Aldershot, whose ground was mocked by the Metro FM commentators as being like a public park.

Points have to be earned at this level in the same way as in the Premier League, by respecting the opposition and working hard. Don’t forget, as well, that half of the players in the division will circle Sunderland home and Sunderland away on their calendars as the highlights of their season.

Teams will raise their game, especially at the Stadium of Light. It won’t be easy.

Secondly, although it was great to see the kids do well on Sunday, we need a solid backbone of players who know League One and are willing to fight to get out of it. In particular, we need a couple of hard centre halves and a centre midfielder who can help develop Robson.

Most importantly, we need two or three strikers, all capable of scoring 15 goals at this level. A manager who knows the league is essential. I was sorry to see Coleman go – I’d have liked to have seen what he could achieve with a budget and some time to build a squad – but now he’s gone we need to get behind a new appointment and focus on the job in hand.

I can’t wait for the fixtures to come out. Let’s have it.

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