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Where are we as a football club?

It’s never boring, is it?

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

These are weird times. All of us have been seriously affected by this crazy virus one way or another, and football is under serious financial pressure, currently struggling along without fans being present at games.

Sunderland are now rudderless even without the crowds being present and calling for the manager’s head, although messages on social media have effectively done that instead. There has been a terse statement released on stating that both Phil Parkinson and assistant Steve Parkin have departed, and that the board will now begin the search for a new manager and will make no further comment until this process is completed.

If we had held on after a decent performance at Doncaster, and taken more than a point at Fleetwood, things could have been looking a bit different now; as Brian Clough said, no managers are sacked after a win. I remember that Malcolm Crosby also being relieved of his duties after a drawn game, but that was a “Pools Panel” draw. Parky has presided over a run of 5 games without a victory, and that embarrassment of a performance at home against Mansfield in the FA Cup was truly shocking.

I am reminded of what I noted previously about a quote from a Bolton fan, on a fellow Black Cats’ supporter’s 2019 Christmas card: “Sunderland now have ‘Parky’ who we were glad to see the back of. He was loyal but his football was dire”.

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

One major issue is that current ownership is perceived by many as failed and under-ambitious. I am sure that a psychologist would be telling us that many fans’ anger towards Parkinson is a projected resentment towards the Board who selected him and brought him in.

When Jack Ross was dismissed, I would have favoured hiring Neil Warnock with Kevin Phillips as his assistant and head coach, with a succession plan in place for SKP to take over in a year or two. Will that apparent lack of ambition continue if Stewart Donald is involved?

We have a history of wanting to change the manager at this football club. We have had 15 come through the door, including caretakers, since Steve Bruce departed just nine years ago. A fan posted the following on the BBC website when the Saints went top of the league recently: “Southampton are the perfect example of what happens when you give a manager time to implement their plans, ideas and tactics and don’t panic when you don’t see immediate results. Patience is a virtue.”

If changing the manager was always a solution, we would be top of the league. I would have favoured keeping say, Martin O’Neill on even if we had been relegated, to rebuild the side and take us back up, but Ellis Short had a “hire and fire” mentality. Paolo di Canio was the next manager - need I say more?

In more normal times, especially if Sunderland are doing well, the team are a source of community spirit as we meet with friends to go to games, pick out those we know from the crowd and alongside all of that sociability the Foundation of Light does its great work.

As I have pointed out on these pages previously: “in times of an unprecedented world disease crisis, many of the things we trust for our livelihood and wellbeing have been ripped away from under us, and we look to our local community for hope. That for so many Wearsiders is our beloved football club.”

West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

The team has failed to inspire us for some time now. Having affirmed that, it is becoming clear that regardless of the perception of many supporters, and it makes me sad to say this: we are a League One football club, for a third successive season. I am generally blessed with being even-tempered, but I was extremely fed up after we lost at home to MK Dons on November 14th, posting this on the Sunderland Supporters Worldwide Facebook page:

“I remember hearing about how Harry Redknapp who would arrive home at Sandbanks after a bruising defeat. He would fret, have a glass or two of red wine, and get back to planning the next week’s training and briefing. Today I was genuinely optimistic after hearing of yesterday’s takeover news with the promise of a Board shake-up and some major funding coming into the club. I thought that the current players would put in a great performance today and be anxious to impress. Put the first team out today after a couple of defeats experienced by experimental teams in cup competitions, mix in some youth that impressed, and we would record a home win.

But today’s loss to MK Dons was painful, as experienced by fans and expressed by the depressed-sounding Phil Parkinson. He is a human being after all, and this was a bad day for all involved. We can argue that it was never a penalty, and that we dominated the second half. My wife tried to reassure me by saying that it can only be up from here; I have seen so many social media posts demanding that Parkinson be sacked, and time seems to be running out for him.”

Despite having fans who believe that we should be walking this division, the team has been so deeply emaciated by the current owners so that almost all players of value have left.

We have just fired a manager who has generally operated at this level and who seemed comfortable with the degree of ambition currently being exhibited by the club. The League One wage cap has not helped our cause, and then we all are experiencing the constant unsettling effect of a rumoured takeover.

Business is business, we are fans - we’re maybe getting more cynical week by week but hoping for good news as soon as possible as we always do, especially on club ownership.

Fleetwood Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Having none of our fanatical supporters present has definitely not been an advantage at the Stadium of Light. Last time I was at a game there was at the International Fans’ Day over nine months ago in front of a 32,000 crowd, enjoying a 1-0 win over Ipswich Town. The atmosphere made such a difference when compared to the current games with their morgue-like ambience. We obviously tend to blame our manager when things go badly in games at these unprecedented times, but it has clearly been hard for the players to lift themselves in the two home league games we have lost. In contrast, we are unbeaten away from home, where our solid defence has clearly helped us.

Andy Tomlinson has written lucidly on these pages in the past few days about the lack of ambition perceived by Bolo Zenden when Sunderland were managed by Steve Bruce. We are more than perceived as hamstrung now with an even weaker sense of ambition; I believe that perception is reality.

Ambition is what the prospective new owners’ business plan will state, and there has to be way to turn it into reality. My vote would be for Nigel Pearson with Kevin Phillips as his assistant. Ever since Niall Quinn left the club we have had no-one who truly understood the fans; I would bring him in at Board level with that brief, which would in turn help to attract SKP.

As fans, we demand true and measured ambition, to aim high, to try to win every game we play and reach for the top. Anyone who pulls on a Sunderland shirt must realise what a privilege that is and needs to sweat blood for the cause of the team.

Hope keeps us going… the new owners must find a way through the restrictions, the bureaucratic spaghetti and red tape of the EFL to bring in an experienced manager who can attract some top players in this next transfer window to drive the team to promotion.

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