The following is an e-mail sent by myself, Kieron Brady, to Sunderland AFC via former club captain Kevin Ball in March 2015 - at this time the club was managed by Gus Poyet.
I had attended the match the previous Saturday at the Stadium of Light as a special guest and had fulfilled the duties that are part of the role – Introduced to supporters, performing the half-time draw on the pitch and attending the game.
Prior to the game I had shared dinner with Kevin Ball, this allowing us the opportunity to speak after many years of not being in contact. Kevin was a team-mate during my time at the club. Kevin passed the following mail on to those who oversee club operations daily, including former Chief Executive, Margaret Byrne.
I was contacted by the club about it and a meeting was suggested by the club but this, sadly, never materialized. It was subsequently forwarded to Martin Bain and, in the summer of 2018, was both forwarded, with slight amendments, by e-mail and hand delivered to the club, for the attention of Stewart Donald.
From: Kieron Brady
Sent: 16 March 2015 09:27
To: Kevin Ball
Subject: Thoughts on our club
As said in our text exchange it was nice to see you, and others, on Saturday. I am not one for the public environment as it were but it was nice to be asked to be Guest of the club. Alas the performance and result took me back to the dispiriting times we endured when relegated at Maine Road.
The reason for contact by mail is centred around what seems like the endless predicament the club finds itself in. Whilst we may be about to once again enter the process of managerial recruitment and all that that entails I was wanting to put forward a suggestion that may have merits.
It is also on the assumption that you have no interest in the job on a full time basis. To that end, and if you do, then naturally I wish you every success.
On to the matter in hand.
Firstly, I do not believe the problems that pervade Sunderland AFC is exclusively down to personnel. It is facile to infer that managerial shortcomings or sub-standard players are the sole reason for persistent under-achievement.
Presently there is a playing staff that not only possesses a wealth of experience but includes many players who have, in the past, played at the perceived elite within the game, notably in England but also in mainland Europe and further afield. Whilst the nature of the game is such that these players may not offer complete honesty I think it wise to seek the honest opinions of players who have played for Sunderland AFC in the last 15 years or so and who have been at other top clubs and to then draw comparisons from the answers given. The fact that these players are no longer tied to the club in any official capacity may engender the necessary honesty to make such an undertaking worthwhile.
I am of the firm conviction that if the club, time allowing of course, were prepared to go and speak to the following, in possession of a set of preconceived questions and such queries were responded to with genuine honesty then we may make inroads in determining the roots of the problem that sees the club’s fortunes fluctuate on a regular basis.
Managers: Martin O’Neill, Roy Keane, Steve Bruce, Howard Wilkinson
Players: Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Wayne Bridge, Danny Welbeck, Johnny Evans, Niall Quinn
The list of managers and players is incomplete, it is designed to give a broad outline of the type of personnel that may provide an insight into what they genuinely feel and which can be dissected in a manner that may prove of great benefit. We both know that such players, or almost all players, when asked by media for their thoughts on Sunderland AFC, or any club, will tend to accentuate the positives and not be too damning about problems which perhaps lie at the source of any clubs inability to sustainably succeed.
This is not about asking the above to recommend any particular individual, more to get an in-depth and honest assessment of their perceptions and how they see Sunderland AFC, ethos, expectations, acceptance, standards and crucially whether they feel that almost upon arriving in Sunderland they form an impression that they can wind down somewhat and their career is almost on hold. The consequences of this are perhaps best illustrated by pictures of players prostrate in casinos or others facing questioning for alleged sexual conduct. I would have great difficulty in believing that the players in question would have allowed themselves to be drawn to such situations had they been in the employ of certain previous clubs. This is not in any way an attempt to moralise, I was often unprofessional in my fledgling career as you may recall.
If we can secure candid responses from outlined individuals then my conviction is that it will become apparent that there are issues surrounding the club that are incompatible with prosperity and success that are little to do with any one individual.
I came to the club in 1988. Just prior to my arrival I had, in Glasgow, spoken with a former Sunderland player to inquire as to his thoughts on playing for Sunderland AFC. His comment, which has always stayed with me was that ‘It is like a holiday camp’. Of course the game has changed dramatically since then and the club has transformed to reflect the evolution of the game. I am however still of the view that it is almost as if something lingers in the air and has moved from Roker Park to the Stadium of Light and which somehow leaves new arrivals with the impression that they can relax in footballing terms, that the level of expectation is not the same as elsewhere.
I am mindful that what is proposed is not the general recourse in terms of locating new management. I am however also au fait with the fact that managers departing the Sunderland scene on an almost annual basis offers no stability, does not engender confidence in players either at the club or looking in, and may also be contributory to the position being more and more accepted as something of a ‘poisoned chalice’.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts Kevin, the club I believe is still in many ways ‘waiting to happen’. More than happy to discuss further and to pass thoughts on what I regard as suitable questions to address underlying problems that seem to see many competent and reputable managers arriving at the Stadium of Light but departing before too long.
I will allow you to get back to the daily grind, do appreciate this may be a hectic time for you and as said, wish you all the very best if assuming the position, temporarily or other. You can convey this mail to others at the club if you think it appropriate.
Yours in Equality,
The following is taken from The Guardian, October 2016 and is an interview with Gus Poyet, former Sunderland AFC manager from September 2013 to April 2015.
I have emboldened the parts that, I believe, reinforce many of the sentiments I forwarded 18 months or so earlier.
There’s something inside Sunderland, something at its very core,” he says. “It’s hard to explain but there’s a way of life, something deep down, that makes it difficult to fulfil its potential. Niall Quinn criticised me for saying so but later talked about ‘gremlins’; then Paulo Di Canio talked about that moment when you get your head above the parapet and … bang! There’s something there, something I couldn’t find. If I knew what it was I’d say but I don’t. But it’s there and needs to be changed at the root.
I played at Sunderland with Chelsea. We lost 4-1 and I left thinking: ‘That was spectacular.’ The passion was explosive. They had Quinn and Kevin Phillips and it was a good moment. Peter Reid was there: an absolute phenomenon but a year later, the same fans were shouting at him from behind the bench. You can’t say that with Quinn and Phillips he’s a good coach and without them he’s not but he went.
Others go, too; the best player’s destiny is to depart. “A player has a good season, and [someone takes him]. It makes no difference if they give you £20m for him – £20m doesn’t replace him and doesn’t solve anything. The year I arrived they told me Mignolet, Henderson and Rose had been the best; [soon,] Mignolet wasn’t there, Henderson wasn’t there and Rose had returned to Spurs. By January the players giving me exactly what I needed were Keane, Alonso and Borini. All on loan, and they all went.
So then I go. Dick Advocaat comes in and the blame lies with the last coach and his signings. So you sign new players for the new manager. And then that manager goes and the blame lies with him and his players. So the new manager signs new players. And in comes Sam Allardyce. And then he goes and now David Moyes is there and he has what’s been left him by previous coaches and you can’t go on like that. You just can’t. It’s impossible. Because when you start from zero every year – every year – you stay at zero.
The following represents a series of questions to be put to individuals formerly in the employ of the club. They are primarily former players who have played for the club over the last 10 to 20 years. Each of the players has also spent time at leading clubs, both in England and abroad.
The purpose of this initiative is to seek honest answers from such players/managers/coaches, this designed to inform as to whether the standards and expectations at Sunderland AFC are comparable with other clubs. The clubs referred to have been successful in varying degrees in recent years, both within the context of domestic and continental football.
This is designed to acquire information around the instinctive thoughts of players when hearing of Sunderland’s interest, the period prior to signing, their time at the club and their views in light of being within the employ of Sunderland AFC.
The questions listed below are categorized within Before, During and After with the allowance granted for players to offer their own general observations beyond the agreed questions. Depending on answers to questions the interviewee can be asked to expand upon their answers. Ahead of any consultation with such individuals I believe it would be essential to convey to them:
- The undertaking is at the behest of Sunderland AFC;
- Is an attempting to address underlying issues with the objective of making the club more competitive and/or prosperous;
- The dialogue is in the strictest confidence.
The questions that are set out can be added to.
- When aware of the interest of Sunderland AFC, what were your initial thoughts of the club?
- Were there any other clubs interested at the time?
- If yes what prompted you to sign for Sunderland AFC?
- Did you believe you were joining a club with genuine aspirations to compete at the highest levels of the game – challenging for honours, European qualification etc?
- If consulting others on Sunderland AFC were their opinions on Sunderland AFC favourable or unfavourable?
- Did the club make you aware that this was a club with high standards and expectations?
- Did the geographical position of Sunderland (North East of England) put you off in any way?
- Did you feel that the ‘dressing room’ was ambitious about making the club a genuine challenger at the elite level of the domestic game?
- Did you form the opinion that this was a club with high standards and expectations?
- Did you believe that there was a high level of consistent application and commitment from players for the full period you were there?
- Did you sense a blasé attitude that was not evident at other clubs you played at?
- Do you believe that Sunderland AFC has a structure that would allow it to compete at the highest levels of the game?
- Do you believe that Sunderland AFC has the potential to be a club that is competitive at the highest levels of the game?
- Why do you believe that many players find that their careers stagnate at Sunderland AFC?
- Are you surprised that a club with a support in terms of quality and quantity, continuously fails to make an impact on a consistent basis regarding success?
- In light of all of the aforementioned would you like to add anything?
If the above undertaking is agreed upon then it would be logical to allow for the answers from former employees of the club within the football operation to be collated and to then, if applicable, construct a strategy or structure which seeks to remedy one, or more, of the underlying problems that have existed within the club and which impacts upon potential.
Any such undertaking would be known by the present football management, this with the intention of assisting them with their respective objectives.
It would be pursued without knowledge of others if felt appropriate by the club, including employees of the club and media.