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Sunderland v Bradford City - EFL Trophy

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We wanted a long-term project, so why are so many Sunderland fans thinking short-term?

Can Sunderland AFC actually become the club of patience, acceptance and growth, or have we leaned too heavily into the stereotypes cast upon us? Tom Albrighton discusses where we find ourselves at currently...

Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sunderland social media at the moment is an interesting place.

Goodwill it seems doesn’t last long on Wearside anymore, especially where Lee Johnson is concerned. Merely two weeks ago amidst claims of ”our gaffer” and ”Lee Johnson’s red & white army”, no fan could have predicted the trajectory Sunderland have found themselves on.

Steep decline doesn’t cut it, this feels more like the Wall Street Crash.

Unlike finance, and contrary to what the rather vocal detractors say, Sunderland haven’t become a bad team overnight.

The clamour for Johnson’s sacking gathers pace for those who find his ability or character lacking, but that too belies the fact in the opening ten or so games - Sunderland had their best start to a campaign in many peoples living memory. For most clubs, this would be the proverbial ’cash in the bank’ - but then, we aren’t “most” clubs, are we?

We aren’t ”most clubs” because very few fans in this country, or even in Europe, would still engage en masse following what can only be described as a ten-year death spiral. Few clubs in the land would also average crowds of over 30,000 after three seasons in football's third tier, but we do.

However, most clubs wouldn’t engage in the insanity this club has indulged over the last decade, an almost self-perpetuating misery. Borderline absentee owners, bad investments and even worse appointments at almost all levels of management took the club to the brink - from the Premier League to this, not many would achieve that in ten years without the helping hand of administrators and points deductions. We did though.

Sunderland Ladies v London City Lionesses - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

In a strange sense, all of these things are what makes Sunderland one of the greatest clubs in this country - so long as we’re winning.

Take away the wins and we suddenly start to lean into that ”basket-case” label so many have delighted in slapping upon us. At times, it feels fully undeserved but at times like this, you can see exactly why.

I’m in no way saying we should be grateful for our recent form, and if you’re against the manager, then so be it - you pay your money the same as anyone else. Where we may have to draw the line though is how we, as fans, see the project that this club has become.

Long gone are the days of being a sleeping giant or a home of untapped potential - this is a club that has been on its back for a number of years now, and is definitely in the process of being put back on its feet.

As part of that process, Sunderland have gone through some monumental changes at the club under their new stewardship.

Radical changes to our scouting process, recruitment process and how the club operates have been the marquee changes. Alongside those changes has been the lesser advertised but equally important moves - investment into the quality of the pitches both at the stadium and academy, a defined modus operandi for all grades of football, as well as a concerted effort to pursue younger players in contrast to our much-maligned previous criteria of signing over the hill and expensive players for one final hurrah/dash to the bank.

New Sunderland Manager Press Conference Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Most tellingly, and arguably the most important appointment made in a summer of great upheaval, was that of Kristjaan Speakman.

Alongside Kristjaan’s appointment came a very clear message - patience is key.

Like any long-term project (of which Sunderland very much are), the employment of patience and careful consideration is absolutely key. Trusting the process and the decisions, allowing them to fully blossom before aspersions are cast is at the core of what Sunderland are now trying to achieve, especially considering what came before them. The switch and desire was sold to us from the outset - to stop running the club on short-termism and build a stable foundation which the club can build upon, year on year. The Japanese call this Kaizen - meaning ”change for the better” or ”continuous improvement”.

In short, then, this is somewhat of a plea - a plea for calm, a plea for patience.

Whilst there can be no excuses for the form we have seen over the last two weeks, there also has to be a consideration that this is a huge project and as part of that, mistakes will be made - by the owners, by the management, and by the players.

If we are truly to evolve as a club though, these disappointments must be tempered and to an extent, understood. These people are human and like the rest of us, life is their greatest teacher. If we don’t allow people to make mistakes or then learn from their mistakes how can we possibly expect the club to change? After years of begging for youth players to be brought through and bought, are we really believers in this process if we, as fans, cannot pick these players up when they invariably fall?

Sunderland have a history for bucking trends, it’s part of our DNA, so I can’t help but think with all that has transpired - not just this last two weeks but with our season as a whole, that in an age of instant opinions, abuse at our fingertips and a world of instant gratification, if we could buck that trend once more?

Can we actually become the club of patience, acceptance and growth, or have we leaned too heavily into the stereotypes cast upon us?

Time will tell, as it always does, but maybe this season isn’t just an opportunity for a fresh start for the club, but a fresh start for all of us.


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