Many years ago myself and a few other teenage reprobates walked across the fields, past the quarry and scattered abandoned remnants of Sunderland industry, bottles of scorpion in hand and various frowned upon substances on our person, to reach Penshaw. It’s a journey that sticks out in my mind because the sun was shining (weather was sweet, yeah) and a younger, far less cynical version of myself sat atop that hill with my mates, backs to the monument, listening to various mixtapes as we looked out across our city and region.
It was the 90’s, Murray owned the club, Roker was to be abandoned in favour of a shiny new forty-odd thousand seater, Reidy was in charge, SKP had arrived and I had no idea yet what that would come to mean to me, the lasses danced and us lads chatted all kinds of sh*t. It’s just one of a thousand memories I hold dear regarding my primarily misspent youth.
The point (beyond pure self indulgence) of this is I looked out across my city at a time when I had absolutely no clue what the future would bring, it was open to all of us. Listening to The Verve and my obligatory Monkey tapes, inebriated, daft as f*ck and chain smoking tabs we’d stolen from our parents (wearing ridiculous trackies) we dreamed our various dreams.
At the same time, some Oxford fans were presumably bemoaning their own city’s lack of place in sporting history beyond a poncy boat race nobody but the rich cares about, listening to Neil Diamond and Sash in equal measure. I don’t really care what they were up to in all honesty, as this isn’t about their hopes and dreams, their history, their connection with their city or anything remotely similar. It’s about us.
These cretins are largely irrelevant to the story of our region, they will never love it like us, they will never understand it (they believe they do but they don’t, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation), and they will become a footnote in the very history they pretend to acknowledge.
The fact we sit and argue amongst ourselves over whether an insurance salesman from Oxford and an Etonian who has more disdain for the North and its people than the blackened soul of Maggie Thatcher are being judged too harshly for their decision making, their deceits, their inaction on matters they supposedly prioritised on arrival, their ridiculous reactionary statements, their constant contradictions of each other’s stories delivered with the sort of passion that could be misconstrued as true suffering (but I think lies more in the realm of quite pathetic defensive and emotional responses to the scrutiny these daft sods apparently thought they’d never come under), or their many other transgressions… well in my opinion it’s a tragedy.
To use a common analogy: in relationship terms Stewart Donald was that rebound lass/lad that comforted you in the aftermath of binning/getting binned by someone you spent a while with but turned out to be a twat and Charlie was the mate that tagged along everywhere talking utter sh*te.
The problem with that, of course, occurs when you realise this new relationship is even worse than the last, and whoever you ended up with got their claws into you because you were either vulnerable or completely blinded by that bright green grass the other side of whatever you were in prior to them.
Now you spend your time trying to lessen the bruising to your ego, that you could give your trust so freely to someone who has essentially taken you for a f**king fool.
The divorce went well.
People like Charlie, whose guideline for what makes a “true and loyal” football fan is dependent entirely on his own opinion at any given time. This is a man critical of a fanbase for being critical of the ownership despite being critical of the ownership of his own club Oxford on their fan forums often. His approach to problems in often heavy handed and aggressive - ways that don’t help anyone at all.
In his case, I’m talking about his less than successful approach to fan interaction; his aforementioned hypocrisy on the subject and his willingness to throw threats of legal action around more often than he throws cash at a barman, which is an impressive feat in itself.
An overly privileged, overly confident propaganda-machine in some moccasin, red chino and jumper clad package that was presented to us like a walking, talking caricature of himself. Cigarillo and pint in hand he gives off the aura of a man who doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks, and he’s extremely confident that he is absolutely right at all times about all things.
I remember thinking initially I could put up with him on the basis that he may be a necessary evil that could benefit the club in certain areas; however, it’s clear now by way of his many awful takes and the utterly ridiculous divisive views he pushes on those around him that he’s not brought anything to the table to benefit our club at any level. And while he has of course stood down from his position, he is still very much part of the ownership due to that 6% of his and the fact we’re still hearing from him in public regarding club matters.
In short, I struggle to believe a word he says at any given time and I wouldn’t trust him to pass the homeless without whipping out a £50 note and igniting it to ‘Firestarter’ by the Prodigy, laughing maniacally at the tortured look on the face of those he deems beneath him.
As for dear old Stewart - the insidiously insincere and outright deceitful clown hiding in the shadows like the rich privileged deviant he is - well he has shown a toxic mixture of stubbornness, weakness and a frailty not befitting a man charged with guiding our club in any direction... not that he seems to know which direction he’s facing at any given moment.
Driven by emotion, thin skinned and incompetent, his withdrawal from the spotlight in times of serious crisis shows him for what he is: an utter coward.
His decision to bring an acquaintance of Charlie from a side at the foot of the football pyramid - Jim ‘Sorry you feel that way’ Rodwell - to run a club he has precisely no knowledge of, let alone a club secretary he worked with at his old non league stomping ground... well it’s entirely tinpot, isn’t it?
The man runs this club like it’s a burden he can only share with the worst types of people in football and it really shows.
See also: Richard ‘I’m dying on this’ Hill and Paul ‘I have no idea why it’s so difficult to run an academy in the north east of England from the south coast of England’ Reid.
I’d give Sartori a mention, but who can be arsed, really?
The deeper you go the worse it gets on all kinds of levels. Their attitudes towards the fanbase are inherently disrespectful - hence the disrespect thrown right back at them. And their belief is that they are somehow not entirely reliant on the support they mock so obviously by their frequent and ever-increasing volume of lies, backtracking, action, inaction and outright ridiculousness.
Now this is still somehow a divisive subject and some fans are apparently more understanding, or perhaps had lower expectations of what work could be done for the club and region by these chancers.
However, those with low expectations from the off, in my humble opinion, shouldn’t be defending the terrible decision making or behavioural patterns of people they know to be damaging the long-term prospects of not only the club but everything that goes with it - especially given that those being defended aren’t even Sunderland fans themselves and will at any moment throw the fans under the bus in order to avoid shouldering blame.
I can say with absolute certainty that the anger any of us show is towards this regime, not our club. We are the club. All of us. It’s a part of us in ways we struggle to describe adequately.
The difference between these people and Sunderland Supporters is incredibly basic. It’s not a lack of critical or logical thought on the fans’ part, or our apparent inability to understand the many struggles and suffering of the hierarchy, or our lack of understanding of how business works, or our lack of insight into the beautiful game, or our apparent unrealistic and unreasonable expectations that those in charge do what they say they’ would/will do, or our refusal to take responsibility for the league position of our club that is supposedly linked to us being Mackems/northerners/abnormal in some regard.
It’s simply the case that we were always just an opportunity that this lot thought they could make a profit from. That’s it. To those wondering why everyone is so pissed off I’d ask, please, that you strip away any feelings of nostalgia regarding their first few months and get the idea out of your mind that anything will improve on their watch, as they don’t care about anything but a golden handshake, regardless of what they might plead. And before anyone gets tears in their eyes and rages at the terrible injustice inflicted upon these poor souls trying to make millions off the back of dodgy deals (regardless of legality), our support, our history, our club... even the grass the Lads train on.
Try to remember what your dreams were sat on that hill.
I remember all kinds, and in not one of my dreams did I consider a time where I should, as a Sunderland fan, be grateful to a group of people such as this, let alone be expected to turn away from their destructive inadequacies, incompetence and insufferable greed.
I especially didn’t dream of a day like the days we’ve had more recently, where myself and my fellow supporters are expected to take responsibility for the collective failures of a group of amateur hacks, insurance salesmen, political campaigners with dubious moral values, former national league managers and painfully inadequate coaches who all lack the ability to deal with something as simple, as basic, and as obvious a pitfall of being part of one of the largest football clubs in the country: scrutiny.
This is not an instant reaction to a sudden appointment, this feeling of rage and anger at these useless charlatans is cumulative. It has risen and risen the more this utter shower has raged on, the more daft decisions made, the more ignorance and contempt shown.
Our club is dying and I don’t know how we save it, we have no idea who would come in if SD suddenly dropped his alleged asking price, we have very few options and at this rate we genuinely do need an actual Savior. Only this time, A real one.
If you’re just tuning in, wherever you are right now, we could use a hand.