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Fan Letters: Brian argues against the criticism levelled at Sunderland owner Stewart Donald

RR reader Brian Lavery has written a lengthy argument for why he feels some of the criticism levelled at Sunderland owner Stewart Donald has been unfair. Got something to say? Email us:!

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I understand that the situation has got to the point where many Sunderland supporters have made their minds up about the current owners. Some will now automatically dismiss anything they say as a lie and actively look to find inconsistencies in their words, even if they are not there. I respect other peoples opinions but have difficulty with some of the supporters beliefs that just don’t seem to be right but are now generally accepted as true. I know by writing this I will be accused of being a Rosie, a Donald apologist and probably take some abuse but I wanted to make some points in the interest of fairness, rather than being a blind supporter of Donald.

It is impossible for me to tell if the owners are truthful. I can judge them on whether their statements are consistent, make sense and match their actions. I have supported Sunderland long enough to know that of the many stories in the press, most are just that, stories. I try and look for quotes and solid facts. It’s also good to consider the motives of some sources. For instance, someone who failed in a takeover bid has a vested interest in blaming others for the failure and may also harbour a grudge or may want the fans onside in case he tries again. I take Mark Campbell with a pinch of salt. It’s also true that Donald has a vested interest, so his story shouldn’t be taken on trust either.

As far as I can tell the owners have been consistent on several points from day one:

They never had, or claimed to have, the financial capability to constantly support the club and always planned that the club would be run on a self-financing basis.

They always stated that they would be looking for investment partners.

They always said that they were not looking to sell but would consider genuine offers if in the interests of the club.

They have always said they were in it for the long haul, barring the previous point.

But they also said that if they would not overstay their welcome, if the fans wanted them out.

They said that the club would have transfer and wage budgets that were large by the standards of this division.

As far as I can see, nothing they have said or done contradicts these statements.

Other than Mark Campbell and FPP, other stories of potential takeovers have generally come from unreliable or unquoted sources. I have seen no reliable evidence quoted that Stewart Donald has been looking to sell the club prior to the joint statement, other than to the above. There have been rumours and there is no doubt that there are people out there who would like to buy Sunderland but how many of these we, as fans, would want running our club is questionable.

On Mark Campbell, they claim to have stuck to their word and gave a prospective buyer the opportunity to put forward his plans. They decided he was not a better option for the club going forward and later events at Falkirk have suggested they were right. He has a different story but if you consider the current situation with FPP, Stewart Donald’s later actions seem more in line with his story than Mark Campbell’s. Mark Campbell’s credibility also takes a knock from his willingness to publicise confidential details (if they are true), his apparent peevishness and his later dealings with Falkirk.

All in all, balance of probability is with Stewart Donald on this one. I know those who have already made up their minds about Donald will disagree.

On FPP, only press reports claimed this was initially a takeover. Every quote I saw from the owners talked about investment partners and that the owners would continue at the club. The owners have always said that significant investment was primarily needed at the point that promotion is achieved and that is still what they are saying. FPP still look like good investment partners for when that happens. Although FPP have no track record as such, the main players in FPP have a track record of long term investment. Again, it is impossible to know, but there is no indication that these investors are fly by night or just looking for a quick buck. They also have a track record of both protecting themselves in the short term and having a long term plan, which looks exactly like what they are doing here. Just because they are not publicising it (and why should they) it doesn’t mean they haven’t got a plan. It would make sense for them, at the point that they put in significant investment, to take a stake in the club but that’s not yet. It’s down to their judgement then to decide if they would want that to be a controlling interest or not. I don’t have inside knowledge, but it would be sensible then to invest in the form of a share issue.

A bit of speculation here. When we get promoted, given that the club has essentially broken even over last year and this year, and that the writing off of the debt will have fallen out of the three year window, FFP rules would allow significant investment. The best way would be a share issue and new investors taking this up to acquire a significant share of the club. This would put the investors money into the club not the pockets of the existing owners. The existing owners would remain with the same shares but a smaller percentage of the overall shares. This would be consistent with everything said by the existing owner and everything we know about FPP. Their plans are confidential so I can’t say that this is what will happen, but it would be consistent with everything that’s been said. Investing in this way when we get promoted would effectively increase the value of the club in terms of total share value, but this would probably be justified for a championship club with significant investment funds that would be looking to break even with a budget at the upper end of the championship range. It wouldn’t be justified for a League 1 club as we stand now.

Without this being directly stated, but pulling together the various comments made (loan, not used yet, not transfer funds, operating expenses), the existing loan arrangement seems to be effectively a credit facility, allowing the club to spend what is needed to operate effectively without waiting for the income to come in first. A fairly standard business arrangement. Given that the club is virtually break even, that may well mean that little outstanding debt will remain at the end of the year. It also means that transfer funds are available but would need to be within the operating budget of the club, so the loan isn’t to produce extra funds for transfers. That should be enough to buy players at League 1 level. Again, I can’t say for certain, but this would be consistent with previous statements about the running of the club, statements about the loan and make sense. This secures the stability of the club, avoids the club having to go to other sources for a credit facility and essentially gives FPP the first option to invest when the club gets promoted. Additional funds at this stage can’t really achieve anything if the club is sticking to it’s plan of being self-sustaining. It is also true that the loan does nothing to make future investment/takeover more or less likely.

It was explicitly stated in minutes that the loan was “over and above any other proposed investment opportunities “. So this is not instead of future investment.

When assessing truthfulness, I bear in mind that neither the current owners or FPP are idiots. Therefore, an interpretation that makes sense is more likely than one that doesn’t.

If people can show me facts that support the view of Donald as the conman that he gets portrayed as, I’m happy to listen.

Just asking, but what does Stewart Donald have to gain by acting in the unscrupulous, dishonest way claimed? Doesn’t he do better himself by being part of a successful club? He has sold up his other business interests to concentrate on Sunderland. Is that the sign of someone preparing to cut and run?

As a final point about Stewart Donald, I think the position of #DonaldOut is a bit inconsistent. With one breath they accuse of Donald of being entirely self-centred, dishonest, with no interest in the club but then they rely on his selflessness, honesty and love of the club to make sure that he potentially passes up on better deals for himself to find buyers with long term plans who are in the best interests of the club.

With regard to the joint statement, I personally disagree with the statement itself but feel more strongly about it’s delivery and timing. I could say more but believe that it’s more important to pull together as what we all want is the club to be successful. We should be talking about Lynden Gooch’s goal and debating whether Bailey Wright should start or not, rather than attacking each other over whether we are #DonaldIn or #DonaldOut. This letter isn’t intended to add to the division, just the opposite. We are all Red and White.

Looking forward to seeing more success on the pitch and moving away from venom and back to banter among the fans.

Brian Lavery

Ed’s Note [Gav]: Thanks for sending this along, Brian. My own stance on why I want new ownership at the club hasn’t changed at all, and it won’t regardless of where the club heads on the pitch this season. I feel that there are deeper-rooted issues with the club’s infrastructure that the current owner has shown to desire to address, and these issues will only be addressed when the club moves into the hands of someone else with a better plan for progression.

I wrote about this at length a few weeks back, which you can read here.

I certainly won’t deny anyone their right to their opinion, and like you say, we’re all all red and white. We all want what is best for the club, and we all want to see a successful first team run in conjunction with a successful club that has strong beliefs, an enactable plan for progression both short and long term, and an infrastructure befitting of a club this size, with these facilities and with the ambition to constantly strive to be better.

We will get there one day, I’m sure of it - just not under this owner.

But that’s just my opinion.

I feel that now Stewart has informed of his decision to sell that we must hold him to his word. He’s said he’s talking to prospective buyers. He now needs the time to find a deal that benefits the football club. For now, our focus as fans must shift back to what is happening on the pitch. Regardless of who the owner is, the fans as a whole will continue to stick by the team and support them at games - what we’re seeing now is a perfect blend of the form on the pitch meshing well with the support of the fans, just how it should be.

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