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Sunderland’s Circle of Strife

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For some people Stewart Donald has finally made what may be considered a popular decision. His announcement that he is stepping down as the club’s Chairman might well give some false hope that the eagerly awaited takeover could be imminent. 

Sunderland v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Given the financial situation and uncertainty throughout football we should anticipate a rather long wait for new owners. With the asking price for the club which was announced earlier in the week, that could be a very long and frustrating wait for all concerned – especially us long-suffering fans.

While Donald stepping aside might be cause for some to celebrate; there are echoes from the last regime and our Championship relegation. Ellis Short had always been a shy and rather aloof figure – the ‘rich man in Florida’ who signed all the cheques – in comparison to the initially PR friendly Stewart Donald. But then, ahead of the 2017/18 season the appointment of Martin Bain as CEO seemed to signal the end of any interest Short had in his investment on Wearside.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Could that be much the same as the appointment of Jim Rodwell to the same position? It must be remembered, ahead of both appointments the club was for sale, and it’s apparent the CEO is installed as the fans’ whipping boy. Clearly, Bain’s orders to beg, steal and borrow made his job as well as those of the unfortunate managers he appointed virtually impossible – just as a second relegation in two seasons confirmed.

Personally, I worried from the moment Rodwell was appointed earlier in the year. It feels as though we have gone a full, agonising circle, saddled with owners who have become as unpopular in Sunderland as a certain Joey Barton. Owners, it must be said, who are not in a position or, like Short, are unwilling to significantly invest further to achieve promotion.

Donald claims that he has always wanted to do the right thing for the football club and so lack of interest may not be the problem here. But the signs are ominous, and few clubs prosper during periods of such instability.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Looking back over Sunderland’s history from the last fifty or sixty years, it is difficult to decide what came first - friction at board level or lack of success on the pitch? Going back to the days of the Bank of England club, cycles of brief stability on and off the field have been fleeting at best. We think of the club’s troubles as a recent phenomenon but that is far from the case. Sir Bob Murray weighed into the argument a little while back criticising Ellis’ shortcomings and decisions. But Murray conveniently seemed to forget he had made just as many glaring errors of judgement during his time.

Evaluating Sunderland’s last 40 years, it does not appear to matter who owns or runs the club, the reoccurring theme is how unprofessional and incompetent Sunderland’s boards have been. Some of the horrendous decision making in that time just confirms that. It is true what they say, those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it. Which is why some of the most successful clubs are steeped in all that went before.

This weekend has raised some comparisons with the final Old Division Two table from 1989/90 season when Sunderland finished sixth and were promoted via the Play-offs, albeit, through another club’s financial irregularities. Two other teams making the top six were Leeds United promoted as Division Two Champions and fifth place Blackburn Rovers.

Both clubs would be League Champions within 5 years while we all know what came of Sunderland in that time… thirty years on, the footballing landscape is far different, but it highlights one of the many opportunities missed.

That is the difference when monuments for the ego of the chairman or grand gesturing are put above genuine stability or success on the pitch.