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Dear Charlie

“Sadly you part-own a club which has a set of fans who have PhD levels of understanding what it’s like being stuck in reverse, and you didn’t and still don’t recognise that” writes Ian Bendelow in his piece directed at Sunderland co-owner Charlie Methven.

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

Charlie Methven has been talking. It’s facepalm time.

I have a funny feeling you might be reading this, Charlie. Call it intuition.

I started steaming some carrots when I began listening to your comments on ‘Sports Stories with Sasi’ last night. Such was my displeasure, only the smell of burning 25 minutes later alerted me that I would indeed need to chop some more; I was about one minute away from a new microwave. Appropriately, the cremated contents of the bowl looked very much like your relationship with the Sunderland fan base.

Your mailbag would suggest there is some debate as to what proportion of the fan base, but I’ll come to that.

Charlie you’re a PR man, right? Of course, you are, it runs through you like a stick of Brighton rock. They say it’s all about brand awareness, don’t they? Spread the good news, get the message out there. What better place to spread it on a video which when I viewed it had 430 hits. Lord knows, 420 of those were probably you.

Maybe you really just used it as a dumping ground for some of your musings that the Sunderland support might find... less palatable.

We’re not so different, you and I. You were a journalist, I am one. I hear you were a gossip columnist? Do you know that the Cambridge Dictionary describes gossip as “conversation or reports about other people’s private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true”? Our interpretation of journalism may be different, but I digress.

I’m being disingenuous - I know that you were employed by Boris Johnson at the Telegraph. Now THAT’S what you call a world class journalist. The man sacked for making up quotes. Just like Papy Djilobodji telling everyone he played for Sunderland under David Moyes, saying you worked for Boris is not something you should really shout from the rooftops.

The problem is that your chat with Sasi troubled me. Not least because it’s 72 minutes of my life I won’t get back. Reality is, I’m beginning to really, really wonder about this whole PR schtick of yours.

In truth only bits of the interview stood out. Long, long sections were stories we’d all heard before and all perfectly reasonable. Some of it was a tad - forgive me - verbose (the irony is not lost on me, but at least I’m a bit more self-aware), and some of it was just plain old-man-shouting-at-clouds.

Let’s begin with the line:

They’ve done the same to their last five owners. Some fans tend to want to eject their owner on a regular basis... I was told by one of the former owners that when they were seventh in the Premier League, they were still trying to push him out of the club then.

That’s a good one. It’s incorrect. You know it, I know it, we all know it. There are uncontacted tribes in the Amazon who know that not to be the case. It could be you misunderstood whoever said that to you, in which case okay. There was a level of disquiet under Murray, but not when we were 7th.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Then you say you’ve had thousands of letters saying fan groups don’t speak for us. That’s so amusing I think I might get it embroidered and hang it in my hallway. To be clear, on one hand you’re saying that Sunderland fans hound out owners with regularity, and one the other you’re getting a mailbag the size of the River Wear saying “please don’t go Charlie, we love you?”

In that case I want to see every letter. Did you receive some morse code messages as well? Was the carrier pigeon looking knackered with all the mail it’s lugging from Sunderland to Oxfordshire?

Comments about “patience is something not seen as a good quality fundamentally” by people in the north were illuminating. Ah yes, now the battle lines have been drawn. Did you imbibe truth serum before you hopped on Skype? The ‘us and them’ mentality revealing what you really think? Worth noting being a chippy little so-and-so goes down as badly as a talk-in with Jimmy Hill in these parts, as it does with every decent set of people.

Let’s move on to the discussion around Will Grigg’s transfer fee. Come on man, that’s part of football omertà; breaking it is the equivalent of a doctor discussing a patient’s medical history with the milkman. “It was a bad decision,” you said. Well, it’s not been the only one. Christ, let’s hope Grigg wasn’t one of the 430 viewers, because he won’t appreciate such candour.

Oxford United v Sunderland AFC - Carabao Cup Round of 16 Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

It’s getting pretty wearing being told to understand where you come from. There’s a palpable sense of I’m right and you’re wrong and that’s that. Things started to go wrong when the team went backwards, and it became obvious on the pitch - the reason for this was not down to the fans but you and the board. The decisions you made, the challenges you didn’t meet. This was then compounded by your utter disdain for the support base.

Sadly you part-own a club which has a set of fans who have PhD levels of understanding what it’s like being stuck in reverse, and you didn’t and still don’t recognise that.

You see, it pays to know where the people you need to keep onside are coming from. Who on earth would support you based on, for example, what you said at the Fan Engagement Committee? This isn’t a joke now: it’s basic PR.

To understand what you are dealing with you need a 360 degree view of an issue. You have that chance, because unlike the supporters who cannot see every working of the club, you can. A boss of mine once said if you disagree with, for example, a particular newspaper’s views, then you should read it more - you should look through the other end of the kaleidoscope because you are then armed with every bit of information going into battle when challenged.

This is a psychologically wounded set of supporters, and the last couple of years have left deep scars. Unfortunately what you and Stewart Donald did was to over-promise and under-deliver. You were left without a plan B and have now got no answers at all. Your inability to understand the context to which you came into this club has simply laminated your poor decision-making.

New Sunderland Owner Stewart Donald Press Conference Photo by Sunderland AFC/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

And that is a departure from everything that you base your career on. There is no long game to play here where you will eventually be proved right - it’s over. You have failed.

If you don’t understand that trying to be diplomatic is a key part of fan engagement then you are in the wrong game and you have been for years. You should go back and write for Horse and Hound or wherever it was you worked.

In truth, this is nothing to do with football, or PR. It’s psychological and about control. Why you do that is something only you can answer. Maybe that’s all I should have said.

David Jones’ tweet was telling - and he’s right. You don’t speak for me either.

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