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Was this season over for Sunderland before the football stopped?

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This season Sunderland have lurched from one crisis to another in seeking promotion from League One - would we be lucky to get another crack at this season?

Sean Brown

In my personal opinion, this season was doomed from the off.

Of course this is all (mostly) with the glorious benefit of hindsight, yet questions remain regarding exactly what Jack Ross was doing or was made to do that fateful summer.

We know he didn’t approve of the sale of his chosen Captain and he required money to be spent that simply wasn’t, he couldn’t obtain what he thought were vital pieces of the puzzle, like a goalscorer. He was allegedly performing the duties of a CEO/club official - showing possible investors, sponsors and the like around the facilities - when he should’ve been allowed to concentrate on training and his squad, and he allegedly spent more time in the presence of prospective owners than Stewart Donald and Co.

Add to this the apparently unpopular view that any managerial changes that needed to be made if the owners doubted his vision or ability, should’ve been made at that point or left alone entirely and well... they appeared content with Jack occupying that role (some of them anyway), hence piling on the pressure the way they did with certain promises that could only be achieved by the man in question, should these promises be turned from soundbite to reality.

Alas, the early months of the season were dominated by talk of that huge takeover and the club appeared to be left to tick over as the current shareholders allegedly negotiated a deal with the Americans - a deal which was later claimed to be nothing more than a group of billionaires seeking investment in the incredible Eastleigh management team (nothing to do with the club at all). A deal that resulted in a loan of a mere £10 million secured against club assets, in direct contradiction to what had been stated previously - that Stewart didn’t need to do such a thing, despite having looked at something vaguely similar early on as an option for future revenues if required (“I don’t want to do that and I don’t need to do that” I believe were his words) - but regardless the takeover/investment/personal loan/not investment/possibly investment “thing” rumbled on, distracting a great many of us from looking that closely behind the scenes at the time, as we were too busy stalking big Micky Dell and dancing around the yard in our Sun-dell-and (geddit) home-made tops.

I wasn’t the only one, was I?

World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play - Day Five Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images

In the meantime, on the pitch we were all over the shop, still struggling to find a rhythm and winning streak in the league due to what is now widely regarded as a blatant lack of significant or indeed wise investment in the squad, and a number of what appeared to be strange choices in squad selection and tactics by Jack Ross.

We turned up against Premier League opposition and didn’t against League One sides, behind the scenes it all absolutely fell apart and a large section of the fanbase became irate over the possibility of another season in League One. Some people held out hope for the Ross vision and others saw the results as not being good enough, partly due to that promise of a hundred point season made by people incapable of guaranteeing such things, especially if those statements were followed by an immediate absence.

Again, hindsight is a bitch.

Seeing the fans ire and fresh off the alleged breakdown of the Dell/FPP clusterf*ck, our owner panicked and despite probably not wanting to, sacked young Jack. Now looking back I myself was unconvinced and confused by the Ross situation, and he didn’t look right at all when speaking publicly. Something about him had changed, but I suppose a season managing a club like ours could result in some... emotional dissonance? Still, he was given the proverbial and we looked to the horizon in search of that elusive 100-points-a-season type of manager.

Then after having applications from a few good men and even a club legend willing to put his reputation on the line to attempt a revolution, they chose...

Phil Parkinson?

Because stats and stuff. It was all planned and that. Aye.

Coventry City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

So following the appointment of a man only 5% of the fanbase - according to many online polls at the time from across the spectrum - thought was a good idea, our form dropped after a bright and exciting home win and aye, you know the rest really, but I’ll insist on continuing as I’m a dick like that.

Anyway...

As the results got worse, the ownership became more and more difficult to understand, and their contradicting statements increased; their aggressive stance on being challenged at all by any of the locals really picked up a notch, legal threats were dished out left and right, and from up on high behind the scenes right down to pitch side the fractures widened to the point of almost tearing open completely. Charlie reminded us poor northerners that we don’t understand business (too funny) and subsequently resigned from his position, Stewart backed away somehow further with the occasional outburst, blaming abusive messages and the fact he threw a fan under his big Twitter-fun-bus by accident, and the fanbase turned in on itself out of sheer frustration and confusion.

It just wasn’t a good look from Stewart or anyone else. Combine all that with a load of other irritating stuff, and my opinion of these increasingly-erratically behaved people with their obsession over controlling the narrative and an apparent growing hunger for ways to further manipulate the fanbase dropped so far through the floor its now presumably roaming the streets of Sydney.

Tentatively we all tried to move forward for a while, our suspicions as fans growing by the day. Unfortunately we ran headlong into a run of results on the pitch that further destroyed any hopes of success this season and the owners attempted to dampen the flames of general fan discontent.

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

And when it came to the club’s communication with fans, whether that be on Twitter or via podcasts and fanzines, things began to die down. Communication stopped where before things were very much open, and the owners became choosy with who they opted to speak with. It was pretty much a case of answer the calls of all the fans, or don’t. Mr Donald chose the latter option and looking at it again, in hindsight, I’m not surprised why he apparently feared the possible questions posed by some of our fellow fans.

Now as has been pointed out, that’s entirely up to him. The fact of the matter is that our last Roker Rapport Podcast with the ownership was possibly the worst Podcast in our 300+ episode history, largely due to the presence of Charlie, who did a good job of acting as the babysitter of our other guest, Academy manager Paul Reid.

Honestly lads and lasses, as the man responsible for - among a few other things - the editing and publishing of these Pods, I simply didn’t want to go ahead at all. In fact on first listen back I was of the opinion it shouldn’t be released, as it had just again become the Charlie f*cking Methven Show. Yet against my better judgement I published it on the grounds that it was information from the club... blah blah blah.

An epic disaster and a valuable lesson learned.

By Boxing Day, things came to a head.

We had the rebellion, that statement that not all of us agreed on, followed swiftly by our glorious leader attempting to blame the fans themselves for his mistakes and crying foul from the rooftops at being so cruelly stabbed in the back by the evil fanzine fighting forces and the might of a basic hashtag, to the point he gave in at the first sign of insurrection. What we thought would be a long-drawn-out battle became nothing but yet more evidence of the lengths the owners are willing to go to if it means diverting attention away from their own actions and inaction.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

However an unofficial and somewhat uneasy truce was called on the understanding that Stewart would invest in the club as promised in January, and leave the club in the best possible position he could. I believe it was “far better than when he arrived” or something.

Along with assurances of our amazing financial security we all witnessed a sudden run of form from the team itself, slightly overshadowing the broken promise of that January investment as it didn’t actually come at all. Still, squad performance inevitably led to a few of us questioning ourselves on our judgement of Parkinson. There was a chance however slight, and we all focused on that chance... then it stuttered as has been previously discussed, and COVID-19 entered the fray.

Now we’re in a position where even more information has come to light and that information throws further doubt on everything. It’s been thoroughly discussed lately, so I assume everyone is aware of it.

I offer the above as evidence that maybe, just maybe, it would be difficult to complain about losing out on promotion this season as, frankly, the entire f**king season has been one long f**king joke and we’re all just so f**king tired.