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Holding Sunderland’s owners to account is the right thing to do, but it’s not a one-way street

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“We must hold each other accountable, just as we hold the club’s owners accountable” writes Martin Wanless in his brutally-honest review of Sunderland’s current situation.

Sunderland AFC

Whichever way you look at, it’s rarely been worse than it is now; on the field, at any rate.

Granted, there have probably been bigger disappointments. The Moyes era sucked the life out of the club. The Wilkinson-led 19-pointers caused embarrassment, only for the 15 pointers to outdo them three years later.

Right now it’s different. It’s worse.

Because, in our 140-year history, we’ve never, ever been in this position.

As a fan base, as a club, we know what to do when we’re struggling in the top flight. We know what to do when we’re in the championship. We know what to do when we lose at Wembley. Christ, we even know what to do in one season in Division 3.

But now, we’re in entirely new, unchartered territory. And it shows.

Sunderland v Gillingham - FA Cup Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Divisive Rhetoric

The only consistent factor for this football club is the supporter base. We’ve been here through numerous owners, more managers and players than you can care to remember.

While disagreements over players and positions have been commonplace, there has never been so much scrutiny over the ownership.

Certain factions in the supporter base have seemingly taken it upon themselves to criticise the ownership at any given opportunity. And this consistent, incessant, inflammatory prejudiced negativity is achieving only one thing – it’s causing severe unrest, panic and anger throughout the club at a time when that is the exact opposite of what the club – our club – needs.

As Grant Leadbitter alluded to in his post-match interview in midweek, we all need to be in this together. And at the moment, we’re not.


Of course, questions need to be asked

On arrival at the club the owners took a stance of transparency, which is great in theory, problematic, as we’ve seen, in practice - because, by its very nature, transparency is all or nothing. Problems have been primarily created by minor stakeholder Charlie Methven, who, for a PR expert, seems to have a huge issue when it comes to, well, PR.

If he advised any of his clients to call their customers parasites, or suggest they couldn’t come to work because of the abuse their customers were dispensing, he’d never get a PR contract again. His evasive, controlling response to questions is painful, and despite what it might appear is actually the complete polar opposite of transparency.

Since January, Donald and Methven have seemed preoccupied; their early presence diminished. The vast majority of time this year appears to have been spent trying to get investment. Important, yes. Taking time away from getting the football side right? Perhaps.

The ill-fated Mark Campbell takeover fell through – thankfully it seems – but not before causing significant uncertainty for all at the club; something Jack Ross alluded to in his first pre-season press conference.

The ‘Dell takeover’ transpired to be a shadow of what had been envisaged – a loan for now, rather than anything of major significance — but promising for the future, all the same.

Juan Sartori is missing in action, although with understandable reason. Methven disappeared for a while, reappearing after Jack Ross’s departure and, as soon as Charlie reappeared, Stewart retreated - Methven blaming abusive fans for forcing him away, Donald subsequently attributing it to family issues.

The club’s player recruitment has been mostly; in fact, football decisions, on the whole, haven’t been positive. We had an opportunity to build a team for the future that could grow with us – now we’re scrapping to get up any way possible.

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Juan’s missing… so is perspective

Of course, this all needs to be viewed in perspective. There are a number of things the owners have done and done well, and if we’re happy to criticise when it’s deserved, we have to be willing to praise, too.

They’ve got the club into a debt-free position – with help from Ellis Short – the early reconnection with the fans was superb, although, again due in part to their absence, that goodwill has waned somewhat.

Some may say those things are easy to do. In which case, why haven’t their predecessors done them?

On balance, some questions need to be asked. And they should be because, again, we’re the constant – regardless of ownership, we’re people who’ve been here and will continue to be here. It’s our club.

But again, on balance, they’re mostly variations of questions the majority of other clubs’ fans have – or could have – about their club, too. As supporters we have a duty to ask questions, and we have a responsibility to ask them in the right way, too.

What we are currently witnessing daily on social media is in no way, shape or form any good for the club at all, and more damaging and divisive than anything the owners have been accused of – unfounded or not.

Sunderland v Rotherham - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The issue at the heart

Of course, if we’d gone up last season and were making a reasonable stab at life back in the Championship, or were top of the table in League One this season, the vast majority of this wouldn’t be an issue.

The team is performing poorly this season, bar the odd game or two. We started off with a huge play-off hangover. With a puzzling lack of pre-season games and hanging his hat on an ill-suited 5-3-2 formation, Ross had seemingly lost the plot. The decision to get rid of him was a popular one, and Parkinson has not exactly made too promising a start.

Without a major upturn in form, it looks unlikely we’ll be getting automatically promoted this season; but think back to the promotion season under Roy Keane – we really kicked on after some solid additions in January, and the same is possible again.

That season, under Quinn’s chairmanship and Keane’s strong management, we were united on and off the field. We were together, and that carried us through games, and helped us get some superb late wins and go on a barnstorming run to the title.

The motivation of Drumaville was never questioned – Quinny was mates with them all, it was fine, they were in it for football reasons… I’m sure they were in it for the money too.

So the fact Donald and co might be in it for the money too should come as no surprise. They’re businessmen with no connection to the club. They’re not doing it out of the goodness of their own heart.

Likewise FPP, and their loan/investment/takeover, whatever it transpires to be. They’ll be in it for the business return.

As supporters, our motivation surely is to see the team win each week, and ensure the club is sustainable. That doesn’t mean we nod along in agreement with everything, of course not. We should keep the owners accountable because it is our club. We’ve seen at Bolton and Bury what can happen.

But we’ve got to retain perspective and have some context.

We cannot allow individuals to demonise the club’s owners, and negatively affect the mindset of many others by what amounts to wild speculation, rumour and presumption.

We must hold each other accountable, just as we hold the club’s owners accountable.

Minor things are currently being blown way out of proportion, and being used to inflame and divide a fan base that is already pretty pissed off because of what’s going on on the field. And the motivation for supporters doing this deserves as much scrutiny as anything the owners have done.

I believe that the owners’ motivations come from the right place. Why on earth would they be doing any of this if they didn’t want to be successful? If the club’s successful, they’ll make money, of course. That’s fine. That’s business. That’s how the world works.

If they’ve got a good deal from Ellis Short, then fair play to them. Again, that’s business. That’s how the world works.

But while the outcomes from the owners’ current actions may or may not turn out positively, there’s only one potential outcome of this supporter-fuelled negativity, and that’s an implosion.

At a time when unity is critical, that’s the last thing we need.