Dear Father Christmas,
Thought I’d write to you this year, despite not having done so for some time. It’s been a tough year for all, with very few highlights and lots of lows. I do know, though, that when I am down and feeling low I can rely on magical characters like yourself way more than most so-called experts in the football industry (especially those in positions of influence related to Sunderland AFC) to give me some hope and positivity.
I’ve been reflecting back on the year since you last dusted down the sleigh; I briefly thought we may be onto a good thing with the manager we hired last October, especially when after a Boxing Day nightmare versus Bolton, he went on a very good run and won manager of the month in early 2020.
Sadly, that run turned out to be too short and too infrequent, hence when the league was ceased due to Covid impacts we had insufficient Points Per Game (PPG) to even make the play offs. Another chance missed to get back to a league more representative of the club and the fan base. Another season in tier 3 - how apt that later became, eh Santa!.
Coming back into action in September 2020, the usual early season (sometimes blind) optimism was there again for me, and we did reasonably well for a while with a defence Ebenezer Scrooge himself would be proud of. Clean sheets and resolute defending helping us to beat Posh at home, Oxford away (who were beaten playoff final participants from last seasons PPG workings, and who arguably were favourites to go up), and we also saw off Ipswich at home in November.
To be honest though Santa, it just felt wrong from the restart for me and I think for many others too. We were winning games but at best winning ugly, and confidence related to promotion being a real prospect was ebbing week by week. Just like your job of delivering about 8 billion presents in one night, without a solid and reliable plan (including a plan B when the original has issues), tough jobs become even harder to achieve than before.
Eventually, some would say later than was ideal, Phil Parkinson was let go by the leaders at the Grotto of Light and in early December the present head coach was appointed and took the helm. With a 4-0 win away to high flying Lincoln in his first league game after any decent time with the squad, confidence was on the way back. As we stand right now though, the team is not playing due to a Covid outbreak in the squad which saw a highly changed short-notice first XI take a point at home versus Wimbledon mid month.
As we approach this Christmas we know no football will be played till late December at best, but I remain quite positive that we can get through this spell and pick back up where Johnson and co left off.
So why am I, a fully grown man, writing to Santa? Like most, I have a list of things which I would really like to get for Christmas, and as Mackem families have said for many years, “a shy bairn gets nowt”. So I thought I’d at least send this off to you via the power of the internet, to see what you and the elves can do to help.
As a group of fans we are certainly far from the naughty list, with fund raising efforts for the needy in our area surpassing our wildest dreams in some of the toughest economic conditions for several generations. In addition, the level of swearing from the stands this year is at an all time low, and that is of course all down to good fan behaviour...ahem.
Can you maybe have a look at the below list and see what can be done, Mr Claus?
- Wish No. 1 - Covid recovery
My first wish to you, Santa, is that you get our squad and the wider club personnel through this Covid outbreak as soon as possible, and with minimal impact on the health of our players, staff and their family members.
Football is important to people from the north east, but the most important thing is that our club (and all others affected right now, which is about five or six clubs last time I checked) get through this serious health challenge as soon as we can without any significant long term effects or losses of precious loved ones. This pandemic respects no-one, but any magic dust you can sprinkle on the Stadium and over the Academy of Light to give good health and rapid recovery for all involved is very welcome.
- Wish No. 2 - Gel the team with the coach and his theories
My second ask to you, Father Christmas, is that you do all you can in this weirdest of festive periods to help the team understand, absorb and be ready to implement the strategies and tactics that our recently appointed sporting director and head coach are now clearly trying to bed in.
Please bless our players with as much “Xmas smarts” as you can, as I am sure that if we can continue to build on the identity and playing style of Johnson, including while the team are isolated and training at home, we will be a better team and a real candidate to go up early next summer. That 4-0 away display at Sincil Bank was exciting, enthralling and, in simple terms, fantastic attacking football the like of which I don’t think has ever been played against a top 8 league one side in Parkinson’s reign.
Getting more of that would be a great gift in our stockings, so please do all you can?
- Wish No. 3 - No more injuries, and a speedy recovery for those with knocks
The third ask to you, Father Christmas, is that the time we are not playing is blessed with rapid recovery for our long list of lads queued up for the treatment bench, if that is at all within your considerable powers?
We have had way more than our fair share of injuries this season already (though unlike certain Premier League teams, you won’t see us moaning), and we are only about a third of the way through our schedule. Please can you get liberal with more of that magic dust in the vicinity of Hume, O’Nein, Willis, Scowen, Feeney, O’Brien and Gooch? If you end up with any spare, feel free to chuck a sack of the stuff over Kimpioka and Xhemajli and the smattering of youth players who recently succumbed to injuries in our cup matches, as some of them need the recovery boost more than most, and with youth now not a hoodoo any more, those young lads could well make a real difference.
It is my hope that with the bulk of these lads back to full fitness and a couple of new faces in the squad from January business, we can grab this faltering league by the horns and use our new shape and tactics to really have a go. If the coach can spot a couple of good additions to the squad in the January window and improve the collective even more, that would be a real bonus. Any help with that from you is welcome big fella.
- Wish No. 4 - Some shiny scoring boots for our strikers and attacking midfielders.
It has to be said that we have not really been blessed with a prolific striker for some time, Santa, probably since the untimely sale of Josh Maja over the ditch to France while Jack Ross was still our main man. Can you please get your pixies and elves to knock up some highly effective shooting boots for our strike force and leave them under their trees ready for football action resuming, so the goal scoring can really step-up when we get back on the pitch?
While Wyke has made a decent fist of things (and long may that carry on), we are way lower on goals scored than we should be with the likes of Charlie plus Grigg, Graham and O’Brien available to lead our line (the latter being touted as a goal scorer even at championship level, if “put in the right position”).
We also need to see more screamers like Grant Leadbitters recent one from the likes of Maguire, Gooch, Power, Diamond and Embleton. We have a squad that a lot of teams admire, and youngsters like Mitch Curry may well continue to build our options, but the “cloak of clinical finishing” is clearly off for a dry clean apart from that game in Lincolnshire. Any help you can offer this lot is appreciated.
- Wish No. 5 - A new owner for our own beautiful grotto
Sorry, I know this is a big ask Santa, but if the stocking on the fireplace on Christmas morning can include a majority shareholding being confirmed for our new owner(s), that really would put a cherry on the cake for what has been a very challenging year.
We have had all sorts of speculation around the club sale for months now, including tales of a long-bearded elf associated with mystical and rumoured non existent magic potions being ready to take our club onwards and upwards. Whoever is out there with the cash, the connections and a bullet proof business plan to help our new sporting director and head coach to take us on that sleigh ride to the next league up, we just want the deal done please?
We all need the pantomime to end (oh, yes we do!!!), and the new owner of the club to take the helm to take us forwards and upwards. Out of all the wishes, this is probably the main one, Santa. We need new owners and we need our club back, please.
- Wish No. 6 - Please give the best Christmas possible to all Sunderland fans and other donors to our fundraiser
Last of all Santa, as you may well see from your naughty and nice lists, we have been humbled and left in awe at the support from Sunderland players and employees (old and new), SAFC fans and their friends, family and relations around the world in support of our fundraiser for the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen.
The Roker Report team set out to raise funds for our partner charity and main sponsor only a matter of days ago, and despite all the challenges in the run up to Christmas, the generosity has been nothing short of incredible. Please do all you can to give these selfless people volunteering the best possible festive season, despite all that is going on? They have made a huge difference to the most vulnerable of their kin in the north east, and for that we cannot thank people enough.
I will close this Christmas List by saying thanks in advance for your ongoing support from the north (east) pole, as I am sure you will make at least a couple of my list items happen. Hopefully next year the list won’t be as lengthy, though if we do go up next May, we could well need half a new squad to keep that trend going.
Hope you have a great Christmas too, Santa Claus. Please drive safe, especially when delivering those “shooting boots” to the boys on Christmas Eve. Remember your sanitiser for all them glasses of beer and mince pies - hands, face and space applies to you too.
However many of these wishes are delivered, let’s hope for a way better 2021 for all.
Keep wearing that wonderful red and white, and fear not for your own future. Sunderland fans have kept faith in a cause which many others would feel should have been abandoned as no longer worthy.
Above all else, we believe in what we believe in, without question.
Yours in hope,
Aged 50 and a quarter (nearly).