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Fan Letters: “I’d be able to move on if Donald paid back in full every penny he owes SAFC”

RR reader Sam says Stewart Donald could leave with some credit if he paid the club back what he owed it; David thinks we should hold our nerve; and Neil has a plan to finish the season on the pitch.!

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

Dear Roker Report,

What I would like to know is how come the Bundesliga 1, 2 and 3 started and WILL finish their season all at the same time and funded by the Bundesliga and OUR Premier League, FA and the EFL can’t organise anything similar when apparently we have got the richest league in the world unbelievable.

Anthony Degiovanni

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Firstly, let’s get the context right. There has been a marked difference in the way that the UK Government has handled the coronavirus crisis and that of the German Federal and Länder governments. The UK has seen 600 deaths per million people, in Germany it is 104 per million. Ultimately, the inability of Boris Johnson’s government to prevent Britain having one of the worst death rates and highest total number of deaths in Europe is the cause.

The EPL undoubtedly has the money, collectively, to bail out the rest of the professional pyramid in England. The notion of solidarity between clubs and sets of fans is much more prominent in German football than in England, and the idea that football clubs are not ordinary businesses but social assets is part of the Bundesliga’s DNA. Early on in the crisis, top 1. Bundesliga teams voluntarily put together a solidarity fund to ensure that smaller clubs in lower division would survive playing behind closed doors.

Solidarity between the levels of English football is, these days, early ever more than paper thin. The principle of the equitable distribution of TV and gate receipt revenues across all four tiers of the professional game in England was discarded when the FA formed the Premier League in 1992, breaking the financial link with the three divisions below. Premier League clubs will look to exploit the horrendous state of League 1 and League 2 clubs’ finances to harvest the best of our young talent. Sunderland’s CEO Jim Rodwell has tried to suggest that other League 1 teams have freely chosen not to complete the current season; he’s rolling the dice and gambling their future in the hope that we make a late promotion push.

But the hundreds of deaths due to Covid-19 still happening in England every week and the match day costs that would be incurred by small clubs with little or no income in return, let alone the cost continuous testing and team isolation required to play safely, mean that this season simply cannot be concluded. Add into the mix the impending end of many EFL player contracts on 31st July, and there’s no way that there’s even the time to play out rest of 2019-20 on the pitch.

We may get to see some play off action, but it won’t include Sunderland. Our focus should be on ensuring that we and other fans have clubs to support when football returns.

Sunderland v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One
Sunderland’s home game against Gillingham on 7th March 2020 will be the last that fans see live at the Stadium of Light for many months yet.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

If SD wants to get back any goodwill all, he has to do is be honest. Just make a statement and say that every penny of the club’s money he has used for his personal benefit will be paid back in full to our club.

That’s it, simple. I can accept the fact that he is a chancer and has taken us backwards if he does this.

Sam Lucas

Ed’s Note [Rich]: You're right that we’re due money back, and that’s the bare minimum that Donald needs to do in order to walk away from the club with even a modicum of dignity intact. The return of the written-off £20.5 million loan from Sunderland AFC to Donald, Sartori and Methven’s holding company, would be a start.

But whether we’d be able to trust that statement, and whether any repayment wouldn't not come with a few secret strings attached, is another thing altogether. For me, it’s time for us as fans to take control of our own future.

Dear Roker Report,

In regard to SAFC and the fairness of how we end the league, the question revolves mainly around “do we deserve it?”

If we look at the underfunded teams that got promotion last year, it is highly likely that at least two out of the three will be relegated.

With the asking price for selling the club, and with the dubious circumstances surrounding any sale, the chances of a new buyer at this time are limited.

Players at the next level are more expensive, not only to buy but also in wages. Would we be able to afford a competitive squad? I doubt it.

As supporters, get behind the team the best we can. Hold our nerve. The owners will have to sell and with luck at a sensible price to someone with the cash to match the vision.

David Cassap

Ed’s Note [Rich]: I’m sure you, like me and the rest of us, always get behind the team when they perform on the pitch, whatever division we’re in. Nothing makes us happier than seeing a committed team giving their all for the shirt. We want to see our team be successful on the pitch and the club be sustainable off the pitch. The two are intrinsically linked.

Clubs like Rotherham have a business model that assumes yo-yoing between the second and third tiers. We surely expect more. Clubs that get promotion to the Championship from League 1 have rarely, if ever, had the revenues that come with a stadium and fanbase the size of ours. Big names, such as Sheffield United, have escaped and went on to be successful, to the point of challenging for a Champions League place at the top of the Premier. But all this takes time and real investment.

The Championship is routinely described as a financial basket case, with even well-backed clubs having to sell their grounds to stay within the EFL’s current financial regulations. The Blades haven't blown silly money on their rise through the leagues, it’s been based on a good manager, a good ethos and a developing a team of good, but not flashy, players (including ex-Sunderland youth players).

To be frank, Donald & Co blew a great opportunity for a game-changing investment in the Autumn, and FPP Sunderland still hold all the cards regarding the future direction of the club. But we as fans have been passive for too long, and that’s why the creation of a Supporter’s Trust is now very much on the cards.

Dear Roker Report,

If only the top 8 want to play their remaining fixtures against each other, then award all of the top 8 three points for all other remaining games. That leaves the table like this:

Coventry 41 games 88points

Portsmouth 42. 81

Fleetwood 42. 81

PeterBro 42. 80

Wycombe 41. 80

Rotherham 40. 77

Sunderland 42. 77

Oxford 40. 75

Coventry would have 3 home games against Oxford, Peterborough and Wycombe

Portsmouth would have 2 away games at Rotherham and Oxford

Fleetwood would be at home to Rotherham and away at Oxford

Peterborough would be away at Coventry and Sunderland

Wycombe would be at home to Oxford and Rotherham and away at Coventry

Rotherham would be at home to Portsmouth and Sunderland and away at Fleetwood and Wycombe

Sunderland at home to Peterborough and away at Rotherham

Oxford at home to Portsmouth and Fleetwood and away at Coventry and Wycombe

This approach reduces number of games dramatically and would accommodate play offs comfortably within the timeframe available.

If there are one or two more teams wanting in on this approach, so be it. But those with nothing to play for and worried about financial costs of playing would be protected.

Predict your own outcomes but Coventry look home and dry, second and play offs very much up for grabs in this closely fought league.

Neil Hindhaugh

Ed’s Note [Rich]: That’s a pretty comprehensive plan for concluding the top of the table, Neil. If the owners of the League 1 clubs could agree on anything (why Coventry would agree to this, I’m note sure); if the fixtures, including the play-offs, could be squeezed into the less than 7 weeks until many player contracts expire; if there were enough tests available and those clubs could afford them and the quarantine required to participate safely; if the funds were in place to pay all of the players and other staff at all the clubs involved when no income being generated, then what you’ve set out is one the best solution I’ve seen so far.

But that’s a lot of ifs to overcome. And it doesn't help sort out the relegation battle at the bottom of the table either.

As much as I hate to say it, and as much as what you’ve outlined is a creative and reasonably fair solution to the current campaign, I fear this season is as good as gone.

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