Dear Roker Report,
Despite me being only 18 years of age I have seen 15 managers take charge of Sunderland. Rightfully many readers will instantly compare this to the fact they have been supporting Sunderland for considerably more years and have seen considerably more managers so let me give this a bit of context. Only 2 Clubs who have spent more than 15 years in total in the premier league have sacked more managers in this period, Chelsea who demand instant success and Leeds who, well are Leeds. Before discussing whilst sacking Ross may be the most ludicrous managerial departure in our recent history it’s important to look at the form he showed in the league.
Played 57, Won 27, Drew 23, Lost 7. Whilst we all agreed as fans that many of them draws needed to be turned into wins, we failed to understand how these draws were actually achieved. Not once did Ross introduce defensive substitutions or protect a point where a win was possible however as a fan base we seemed to convince ourselves that this was due to ‘not having a go’ was it not just what has hi lighted many of our shortcoming’s as a football club, That we just weren’t good enough?
Despite that ultimate heartbreak on the 26th May at Wembley (my 18th birthday) I can honestly say In the 14 years I have been a season ticket holder last season was my favourite. Whilst Donald and his mate get all the public credit for ‘being one of the lads’ and putting the coin in the duke box at the Colliery Tavern, much of what I loved about last season was down to what Ross brought to the club. Not only was Ross a calming influence, who did not panic in defeat, sorry draw or get carried away in victory. He brought together a squad and a well oiled system within a couple of months, even Cattermole who lets be honest has seen it all at this club did not expect us to compete last season, compete we did.
Whilst Donald May have provided transparency, it was Ross and his players who got us that incredible weekend in March, that Boxing Day at home to Bradford, that New Year’s Day away at Blackpool and that claw to a playoff final. Perhaps my biggest worry over Ross being sacked is how does any incoming manager realistically please the fans. It seems like some people were almost happy for Ross to fail, after all unless we won all 46 games last season we had underachieved. Whilst we are undoubtedly the biggest football club in this league, we are not too big for this league and it’s this attitude of entitlement and ‘we’re Sunderland’ which is our downfall, similar to how Manchester United have struggled post Fergie.
I admit I was totally against sacking Ross and unless something unbelievable happens by whoever takes over (which it won’t) I will remain that way. However I did not expect the possible regret to come as quick as it did with the win over Grimsby on Tuesday night in James Fowler’s words “being for the manager”. When in the history of football have you ever heard those words stated by a caretaker over his predecessor, I can’t think of an occasion. Not only does this hi light the respect Jack acquired off his colleague but it also shows the respect he earned from his players, when speaking to senior players within the club they were always so supportive of Ross with one stating he was the best manager he’s ever played under. What worries me about this sacking is whoever ends up with the job, which I am sure the club have no idea who it will be, if they don’t win their first 10 games where do we go then? What also worries me is that Donald has clearly given into fan pressure. When owners give into fan pressure traditionally they make bad decisions and we have a few examples of this at our own club. Ellis Short gave into fan pressure in appointing Martin O’Neill, into sacking Poyet no decisions based on that has helped us progress as a football club. What is perhaps worse is that some fans seem to believe that the likes of Allardyce, Warnock and Roy Keane would be interested in the job, they wouldn’t touch it! At best we will end up with someone like Gary Rowett who seems to have this unbelievable reputation as a football manager despite not achieving success anywhere he’s been.
I can’t guarantee that we will come to regret sacking Ross. But what I can guarantee is that whoever is appointed will not be who the fans want, and is likely to end up in another situation where half the fans want him out and half the fans support him, that however is only if he fails to achieve the small task of winning the remaining 33 games of the season. Surely if he wins 32 and we storm to a league win of 20+ points, we must ensure to have this same conversation over why he failed to win the other game and the poor tactics shown in next April’s 1-1 draw at home to Accrington.
Ed’s Note [Damian]: Your outlook is understandable, Luke, and by no means unique. Sunderland fans are fluent in fear and superfluously cynical - and who can blame us? As you say, the record seems to speak for itself.
You have to consider that Fowler and Ross are friends. Jack Ross brought Fowler with him from St. Mirren as his number two, so what Fowler was really saying was “that one was fir ma mate who yous shouldnae have sacked yas b*stards”. Fair enough, I’d do the same in his situation, but this isn’t a case of Ross leaving behind such a legacy that everyone feels compelled to do justice to his memory. His relationship with the players seemed abundantly clear to me as the games wore on - considering that Ross is a professional club manager, it was extremely unlikely that he had no game plan. The only thing we can infer from this is that the often poor, lacklustre performances from his players were the result of a lack of belief, either in his system or in him as a manager. I don’t think anything has indicated that the players are devastated by the loss of him as a manager.
You’re sadly right that there are portions of our fan base that desire failure, even if they themselves seem not to notice. There are plenty of morons haunting social media, waiting in the shadows for a moment of weakness from club or owner, desperate to be seen as insightful and wise. I’m quite sure many have little opportunity to garner the attention they seek, beyond consistently slagging off the club they “love”, and posturing for their paltry following of obstinate sycophants. Unfortunately for us we have to share with them not only oxygen, as if that weren’t enough, but our beloved fandom also. These people come and go in phases though - success gives them no ammunition and so they retreat to their little caves, consigned to a starving ego until Stewart Donald sends two tweets with slightly different wording, and the carrion can feast again. My advice is to call them out for what they are where you see them, and if you happen upon one in a pub, give him a slap.
Invariably this ship carries on its course regardless of who captains it. I feel Jack Ross had an unlucky time at Sunderland. Up until very recently I was more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but you simply can’t watch a team under-perform consistently despite being some of the better players in the division, and refuse to blame the manager. You simply can’t. Missing out on promotion from League One once was heartbreaking but it was at least understandable. Anything less than a premium performance following that would always lead to his making way.
On the positive side these things are done for the betterment of the club. Hopefully with the departure of Jack Ross we will see the arrival of someone better suited to the task at hand.