“Look, this is not a rant...” were the words of Jeff Stelling before he went off on a tirade about how Middlesbrough had been treated, following their ranking as the most undesirable place to live in England. Naturally, it was a definite rant from the Hartlepool-born broadcaster.
I’d like to open with the same gambit: this is not a rant... although it most certainly is.
The curtailing of the League One season has culminated in Sunderland’s lowest ever finish in our history (is that 1879, or 1880 history fans?), in what appears to be one of our darkest ever days.
Where even to begin with this? Should it be complaints that failures to win against Gillingham and Bristol Rovers would have had us in 2nd place and promoted? What about the abject and patchy form dogging Phil Parkinson’s tenure? Or is it something deeper?
Let’s start with the obvious – the results against the two aforementioned sides were a complete disgrace. No excuses for it. We weren’t good enough, and we should have been – but that shouldn’t have even been a huge concern. Look at the results prior to that, some of which are borderline criminal. The 0-0 with Bolton on Boxing Day was awful; the 1-1 draw with Blackpool was dreadful; 1-2 defeat to Burton was woeful. The list goes on. You can go back over the months prior to lockdown, and there is a plethora of, frankly, embarrassing results.
This is no slight against teams who have beaten us, or have held us to a draw. They were doing what they needed to do. No problem with that. But we were meant to be promotion chasing, 100 point Sunderland. It was all in hand, best team in the land the board told us, reassured us after last season’s meek finish. Most of us still were raw following a weak defeat to Charlton in the Playoff Final – many had called on the spirit of Peter Reid’s side from 1998, in one of the old Wembley’s best ever games. If the call was answered, clearly our lads didn’t get the message.
Where does the blame lie? You can throw the gauntlet down at the manager and the players, after all, they have the responsibility on the pitch. Parkinson hasn’t stepped up to the plate – he seems a nice man, but it ends there. What about the playing personnel? I’d say many have flattered to deceive, but then they would have to had flattered us in the first place.
Supposed stars of this division, such as Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke, have been anything but. With 14 goals between them, Maja did more than that in half a season. It boggles the mind. If you blame the players, you have to blame the recruitment or lack thereof. We seem to have a scattergun approach with no scouting structure, nor apparent policy with who to sign. Since our relegation to League One, you can’t really look back fondly at many of our signings, with the best of them merely above average in truth.
All of this ultimately leads to one place: the ownership. Most recently in their list of clangers, is to alienate the supporter base who have been there for this club through the thickest and thinnest of times, by their disgusting approach to season ticket renewals.
The people in charge of our club simply haven’t found a modicum of success, and are now drowning under the weight of owning a big club – maybe we should have seen it coming, as I don’t see Eastleigh pulling up any trees. They have overseen the worst period in our history with little evidence of any good work to prevent it – at least there was a free burger on when we put those seats in, I guess they’ll say.
So what does all this mean, and what is it that creates a fire of fury within? Sunderland have become mediocre. We are a League One outfit. We should have been bouncing back, instead the bubble has burst. You can talk about the big stadium, the great facilities, the fantastic fans, historical trophies, amazing players but it might as well go in the bin – 8th in League One, let that sink in.