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What an Eton mess!

RR reader James Thompson gives his brutal assessment of Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven after witnessing their personalities on full show during the 2nd series of ‘Sunderland Til I Die’. “What an Eton mess!”

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

Charlie Methven is a riddle wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a sudoku puzzle, wrapped in the theory of relativity, wrapped in an episode of Eggheads. A man of the people? A raging self publicist? A passionate man with SAFC front and centre in his life? An Eton-educated chap who is slave to the dollar? Or a mixture of everything?

There’s no doubt he’s the main attraction of Sunderland ‘til I Die, to the extent it perhaps should have been renamed Charlie Methven’s Sunderland ‘til I Die. There’s nothing wrong with that - after all you want the best characters to be front and centre in any documentary.

However the takeaway conclusions from the series are stark - no matter how you try to package it.

Things we’ve learned from STID2: Marketing and communications is known as “mar-comms” (or is that “marcomms?”) by those in the industry, who, by the way, are collectively called “marketeers.” One would think that Charlie Methven (known as a “chinoista” or “salmon panter”) who has been so successful in this line of business that he ends up owning 6% of a not-that-small football club in Sunderland must have done pretty well.

Well, yes. The man clearly knows his stuff; if “stuff” is how to carry off said pair of slacks with such aplomb that the pants wear him. His PR side ultimately has been left seriously lacking, which can’t reflect well on him given it is his area of expertise. He did however come across as someone who knew how to drive a business; he had the patter, the verbiage, the lexical stardust and elocution which meant he could probably have talked over a pneumatic drill.

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

He’s clearly a man who so relentlessly poked and prodded his staff to the point that, despite being on camera, they could not be bothered to hide their disdain.

Charlie, they say, is Charlie. Tearing up Black Cat House like a Tasmanian devil, dishing out the orders left right and centre, telling everyone around him to “get me a beer”, before shouting at poor Sophie because she can’t give the official attendance of the ticket office staff by morning elevenses.

He might argue, fairly, that the people who hold this opinion are the ones who had meetings-about-meetings and didn’t or couldn’t respond to his management style.

However, for what seemed like far too long, we were invited into Charlie’s World. If I was taking bets, I would not have backed the story line “Charlie gets wound up by PR department because they leave at a minute to five” would make it into the series, more hoping we might actually see some, you know, football? Yeah it made for good TV, but maybe this wasn’t actually made for Sunderland fans, because the population at large probably doesn’t give a shit about squeaking a 1-0 win at Blackpool, no matter how many Mackems were in attendance.

”It’s not too much in my nature to spend too much time thinking about what other people think of us.” Said Chazza this week. Which is a bit of a bizarre statement from a marketeer, as he will well know, everything about marketing is perception. Maybe he was lying, who knows (maybe he will read this, maybe he won’t, but I don’t spend too much time thinking about what other people think of me). The 46,000 who came through the gate at the Bradford match, as well as the seat replacement fun-fest means that it very much is about perception, and what people think of you.

Sunderland v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League One Play-Off: First Leg Photo bt Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

What has been hard though is to work out his true motivation: was everything really done with the best interests of fans at its heart?

Or was it to squeeze every last penny out of fans, many of whom were no doubt being persuaded to make the choice between heating, eating, or watching Sunderland.

He’s a stone cold businessman after all; he would, I imagine, argue a happy club equals success both on the pitch and a healthy bank balance. The two are not mutually exclusive - you can have both.

Both he and Stewart Donald were not loved for who they were but loved for what they had prevented. Before the good folk of Sunderland had even heard the names Methven and Donald, there was genuine fear that the club was going to continue its plummet like a lift with a snapped cable. If what they say is true about how the finances at the club have been steadied since their arrival, then they deserve huge credit (although, without Short wiping out a chunk of the debt, it is debatable just how bad things would be right now).

Ultimately though everyone reverts to type in the end - and there have been PR disasters; the parasites comments, that silliness about entrepreneurs at the meeting last year. If you believe that one (arguably two, TBC) failed seasons, poor recruitment, a borderline litany of PR disasters, and a Donald Out campaign is anything but a comprehensive thumbs down when assessing a tenure then you are in the wrong business. What an Eton mess.

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