There is a scene in Blackadder Goes Forth which sums up the situation at Sunderland right now rather nicely.
General Melchett, with his massive walrus moustache asks, “you look surprised, Blackadder?”
“I certainly am” he replied, “I didn’t realise we had any battle plans.”
“Of course we have!” Melchett said, “how else do you think the battles are directed?”
“Our battles are directed, sir?”
“Well of course they are Blackadder, directed according to the Grand Plan!”
“Would that be the plan to continue with total slaughter until everyone’s dead except for Field Marshall Haig, Lady Haig and their tortoise, Alan?”
Feels a bit like this club at the minute.
The interminable cycle of nonsense is becoming wearing. Only this week we’ve had Season Card 2: This Time it’s Personal, with Jim Rodwell maintaining his 100% record as a balls up merchant; he truly is the man with the reverse Midas touch - everything he handles turns to the brown stuff. Meanwhile there have been funny creaking noises emerging from the academy, as Paul Reid stepped down after two trophy laden years. His tenure has been a bit like allowing a hyperactive puppy a good go at the new cushions on the sofa while you popped down Tescos. Tears will not be shed.
There has never been a time of such uncertainty at any point in the club’s history; the thought of what might happen over the next few months leaves me cold. Indeed, I can well imagine there are people waking up on Wearside at 3am in a cold sweat shouting “Charlie Methven!” at the top of their voice. The only thing is, they don’t lie back down saying “thank god, it was all a terrible dream.”
All is not lost, however. This period of time does have the potential to be a sliding door moment. We are sitting here with no idea when we will play football again, when fans will return to the SOL, who will be on the pitch when they do, and whether they will be any good or not. Perhaps most importantly however, we do not know who will own the club.
The list of possible scenarios is not exhaustive, but it’s worth outlining a few possible routes the club could take over the next few months.
Madrox sell Sunderland AFC to someone who is willing to cover the debt, allowing Donald, Methven and Sartori to make a profit. The new owner(s) crucially have the ability to make sensible footballing decisions with the financial means to back it up.
The dream ticket outcome for the lads from Oxfordshire, which would allow them to bank a healthy profit for their tenure. While this would perhaps mean selling to someone who might be willing to buy the club for more altruistic reasons, it is sadly probably the least likely scenario. Why would any sane business person would look at a club that has consistently made a loss over the last decade and decided it would make prudent financial sense to buy it at over the odds? They would automatically lose their right to be called the aforementioned sane business person.
Highly unlikely, but if it were to happen, however, it would represent the most likely route out of purgatory for the club. Perhaps on an initial investment basis, rather than an outright purchase, the idea might be more feasible, but we all know what happened the last time a group took this route.
Madrox sell to someone who is a charlatan
Potentially the scenario Sunderland fans should fear the most. There was an interesting line on Roker Report a few weeks ago which summed up the problem with the current owners succinctly: Sunderland isn’t currently a club set up for success. The direction of traffic currently feels very much the opposite of achievement, and this is likely to be the legacy of Madrox. However, there is one of Stewart Donald’s statements you probably can believe: there will be scores of interested parties when it comes to buying this football club, and it is not beyond the realm of possibility he has had as many enquiries as he claims.
One of the most important roles of any selling owner is to do the due diligence on any buyer; weed out the tyre kickers yes, but most importantly identify those who would wish to use Sunderland - or any other club - for their own gain. Football has been littered with these characters, because the cloaked nature of the business will inevitably attract undesirable individuals.
Our current owners have been unable to fulfil an ambition they had one shot at, and now lack the means to remove the club from the well it has fallen down. What they could do is sell to someone highly inappropriate, when right now the club needs a specific type of owner who can nurse it back to health. If the only barrier to this is the EFL’s owners and directors test, we should all start to sweat bucket loads.
Madrox don’t sell
In truth the most likely outcome. Madrox have been kicking the ‘for sale’ can down the road for too long now. Either they accept that they will at best break even, or they stay. Now whether this leads to FPP taking control of the club by default, your guess is as good as mine. What it will mean is a very uneasy relationship between the hierarchy and fan base through the next few months. The only proper antidote, short of selling, is through winning football matches - and right now that looks a long way off.
There is a mystery house fourth option too: fan ownership. Perhaps the best way with which to ensure proper checks and balances are made on key financial decisions and personnel appointments is through having people with a vested emotional as well as financial stake in the club. The mechanism for making this happen is difficult, and how easy it will be to motivate a supporter base that has been battered from pillar to post for far too long now is questionable. However it is the route a number of clubs have taken in the past - Portsmouth and Wycombe to name two - so given proper thought it could become a reality.
Ultimately, all of this is academic. Without systemic change, through whatever means, there is a chance that this club could build on what is admittedly an impressive decline through the years. The pace however is picking up and without evasive action the brown stuff really could be about to hit the fan. Actually, it already has, but Sunderland supporters should know there are always bigger turds and bigger fans out there.
Let’s just hope any third series on Netflix isn’t called “Sunderland ‘til it Dies.”