Without having the benefit of a crystal ball or time machine I think it’s fair to say that, had Ellis Short not sold the club in the summer (thus meaning that we’d have headed into League One both with him as owner and Martin Bain as CEO) we’d currently still be sat in a pretty tricky situation.
Indeed, the perspective of Sunderland fans would be heading further downwards into a realm of passionate exasperation rather than upwards towards hedonistic pleasure if the physical, emotional and financial needs of everyone connected with the club were still in the hands of the Texan and the Scot.
This article is in response to a question we’ve received many times here at Roker Report, particularly since the start of the season - what would life have been like if Short and Bain were still at the helm our beloved institution?
This very same question also gives birth to its sister quandary: what is life like now under the reign of Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven? Both are interesting psychological conundrums and worth a wordy flight of fancy in response.
Sunderland were a symbol of post-Premier League depression. The human side of our emotional and vociferous support was beginning to lose the will to live and in terms of planning for a brighter day, many were struggling to pull together a vision of tomorrow.
So, a dark and unknown future, troubled and challenging times - at least symbolically - would not have been very far off the mark if we were still under the regime of our Lone-Star Billionaire and his Glaswegian executioner.
If Short had not sold and was still in ownership, and if Bain had not been relieved of his duties, the wider outlook over the landscape of Wearside would appear an entirely different proposition to what it does today.
If you thought the atmosphere was toxic in the last few seasons, can you imagine what it would be like this season?
Imagine if we’d not invested in reasonable League One signings because of budget restraints and wholesale economic cuts to staff, as well as tightening business quantums - slashing them to zero. The energy inside the stadium on matchdays would be so negative and destructive that parents would likely be afraid to take their children for fear of breaching society’s accepted interpretation of severe emotional abuse.
Imagine a world-weary, lower league, journeyman manager happy to work for a leased Vauxhall Insignia and complimentary sausage sandwiches, rolling up with little but a squad of kids and a legion of injured, overweight or past-it loan signings to work with.
Or perhaps, John O’Shea would have stayed on his eternal contract of doom and taken over as the easy option, with Rodwell as assistant coach, while personally setting a Guinness world record for being the highest paid assistant coach who never showed up to work in professional football.
Imagine how many of our faithful would continue to undertake their pilgrimage to their place of footballing worship under those circumstances. We wouldn’t just be shutting the Premier Concourse - and whoever was left would be sitting in pink or greying seats.
Whatever extent of doom, gloom and general hideousness we can imagine our Saturday afternoons to be, under the kind of circumstances such as those I’ve described, I can’t imagine any of us would have predicted a particularly flowery or utopian future had Short and Bain still been in charge. So, whether you’re a victim to over-imagination like me, or more balanced and level headed, there was never going to be a good or optimistic outcome to that scenario.
Which brings me on to now. I’m reminded of a wise quote from an anonymous source that was skillfully blue-tacked to the wall of my inspirational form tutor’s class many years ago:
Good times become good memories. Bad times become good lessons.
When I sat in the South Stand with my boy for the Fleetwood game, that instruction felt particularly pertinent. We had just witnessed a difficult game. There were some good moments, but it wasn’t a vintage performance, it was a little naive, even.
But the atmosphere… it felt uplifting. Unifying. Joyous.
This season my boy has seen wins, goals and points - he feels he’s supporting another team, in a new world, in a different dimension.
He’s nine and has been attending for a couple of years now, and to him this new approach of actually trying to win and at times even entertain, is enthralling and exhilarating. He would get bored easily last season, defeated by the performances but also by the oxygen stealing toxicity and pernicious atmosphere that hung like a vampire around the stadium and sucked on happiness rather than blood.
To truly understand how good this season has been so far, from the moment Donald and Methven have walked through the door, just close your eyes and imagine what this season would be like without them. To truly appreciate their effort and to immerse yourself into their vision, just imagine being joined at the hip with Short and Bain for the next few seasons rather than them.
Their PR drive to build ties with the fans has been robust and positive. They’ve been open, approachable and inviting. They’ve been clear and honest in their approach so far, and the difference in that alone injects some much needed hope into the veins of supporters who had become jaded by interminable failure.
Perfect? Absolutely not. Some don’t fully trust our new owners - Southern wide boys with more gob than trousers they say. They don’t have the money, others argue. It’s a con, I’ve heard friends suggest.
All of that may come to pass - or none of it ever will.
But right now, we’re making good memories, because we’re having a good time. Let’s pray the bad times that have disconnected so many, continue to be the good lessons we learn from now and in the future.
And that’s the thing. The future. I can actually see one and it’s not the end of the world.