Dear Roker Report,
Anyone with a passing knowledge of the infamous fin de siecle Dreyfus affair (1894-1906 according to Wikipedia) would be forgiven for thinking that any French guy with that name would steer well clear of a situation in which he may find himself on the receiving end of unjustified vitriol and being made the scapegoat for long-standing institutional failure.
Yet in buying a controlling interest in SAFC and becoming its Chairman, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has looked such a situation in the eye, put pedal to the metal and driven his ridiculously expensive motor headlong into it. Will this prove the folly or the fearlessness of youth? Only time will tell but, for what it’s worth, experience has conditioned me to fear the former.
I’d be over the moon at the takeover if I felt that the only thing holding Sunderland back was the lack of a billionaire spendthrift owner. It would be a huge relief to think that the well-documented problems at the club had all been solved through the sacking of Parkinson, through denying Donald and Methven their controlling interest in the club and through the appointment of a new Sporting Director. Sadly, if the history of the last 10 years or so has taught us anything it’s that Sunderland’s problems can’t be easily solved through a change of personnel. The same problems were faced by a succession of managers before Parkinson and they pre-dated Donald’s stewardship of the club by many a year.
Clearly Sunderland’s problems go way beyond mere personalities. Maybe a structural change through Speakman’s appointment as Sporting Director will square the circle? Maybe, but similarly high hopes were expected from Di Fanti’s appointment as Director of Football and look how that one played out. I get the feeling that a cash injection isn’t the panacea we’d all love it to be either. Despite his many critics, Ellis Short bankrolled the club more generously than many of our better-performing competitors.
My own personal, completely uninformed, take on all this is that Sunderland just isn’t attractive enough to instil genuine commitment from players (and maybe managers). In the late 90s I remember reading a typically fatuous feature in Loaded magazine in which each club was assigned a shaggability rating by comparing them to female celebrities. While the Mags and Boro scored highly, Helen Mirren and Debbie Harry respectively, Sunderland was judged to be Mo Mowlam.
Now I had, and still have, a lot of time for Mo. Maybe the author of the feature was highlighting the unflinching determination and perseverance, as well as straight-talking honesty, that characterised both SAFC and the now sadly deceased former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. But no, this was Loaded and their comparative analysis never delves beyond the skin-deep.
It goes without saying that it’s important not to draw too many conclusions from such a superficial, misogynistic study. Yet I can’t escape the impression that maybe this is the source of the SAFC ‘gremlins’ that frustrated Quinn and mystified Poyet. Do Sunderland have to make more of an effort to attract players, maybe showing a bit more cleavage than other clubs as Loaded would put it, through paying higher wages and offering more generous contracts to players who then act as if they’re doing the club a favour by joining? If the club had more self-respect, and was accorded it by their employees, then I’d feel a lot more optimistic about the latest chapter in our never-ending drama.
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for your interesting letter, Matt, and I share your affection for dear Mo Mowlam, one of the most honourable politicians we’ve ever had. The question of the image of Sunderland the club and the city is an interesting one. Geography does matter in player recruitment and proximity to London or Manchester may be a factor in some footballers’ decisions when looking for a new club. But Sunderland has as much if not an awful lot more to offer in terms of lifestyle and landscape as Wolverhampton, Southampton or Leicester. For me, it’s crucial that the club under Louis-Dreyfus exudes excellence and professionalism, and that we develop a clear brand of football that good players want to play. We’ve got the fans, the tradition and the passion, and now we’ve hopefully got the resources to match.
Dear Roker Report,
I’m a 45 year old Mackem, my family is from the NE (Washington) but I live down south in Hertfordshire. I remember my first visit to Roker Park as a young boy when my Uncle Brian took me to see the lads on a Tuesday night in half term! It was cold and we had we stood in the paddocks, I couldn’t believe how close to the pitch I was. I can’t remember who we played but the score was 2-2 with around 15 minutes left when my uncle said “c’mon lad we’re off, otherwise we would be stuck in traffic”
We walked out of the turnstile and I must have looked back about 3 or 4 times to get one last look at the ground. Just after leaving the stand we heard a roar! We missed a goal!! I remember walking back to the car wondering what was going on, we got back to where we had parked and we put the radio on. The final score came in....we had won 4-2! We missed two goals!
That was me earliest memory and first game at Roker Park, after that I was hooked on the atmosphere, the people and the buzz of match day.
A few years on and a bit older, after we were just moving to the SOL, my uncle used to tell me over the phone of the stadium being built and how he wanted Bob Murray out! Again I have memories of running into the building site that was the SOL and couldn’t believe SAFC would be having this as their new home!
I bought a season ticket, in the upper North Stand. I fucking loved it. I would see the same people week in, week out. I didn’t know them from Adam, but they were fans and it was like we all new each other. Sometimes I would travel to the SOL twice a week! Driving there and back in one day sometimes! Those Reidy years were just the best.
We had a squad...a team. A team that played for each other, a team that believed they could win and beat anybody at the SOL. As a fan it was superb going to a match never thinking that SAFC wouldn’t give a good account of themselves. I don’t think I ever saw them play poorly at home.
We had Quinny, Phillips, Butler, Sumerbee and more the were good times. I would wait outside the ground until it was dark to grab a glimpse of Super Kev or Julio as they left the ground. Then it was a long drive home listening to the radio about all the football that had happened that day. When is got home I would leave the fanzine, the programme and some Scottie on the table for my mam on the way home.
In more recent years things have changed, owners, directors but mostly managers and players. We have never replaced that Reidy team. We had a stint of greatness with Keane and his boys but we never progressed. We have never had the same level of player since then. Taking in Man Utd cast offs and has been with the likes of Brown and O’Shea. Absolute nobody players under Di Fanti or whoever he was in the Di Canio era, SAFC we’re just an outlay for cash cows and a quick easy ride for players, final pay days and more.
Gus Poyet dared us to dream and we did until Man City equalised....and, apart from Big Sam and surviving relegation against Everton with a 3-0 win, it has been pretty much a downhill slide if defeats, embarrassment and grief. Being a Mackem in the south is bad enough, but being surrounded by Gooners moaning about how bad they have it being 4th in the premier league just makes me laugh.
Sunderland made me laugh and cry...we were more than a joke, we were a laughing stock. Some people may disagree but I think Netflix was good for us. It showed that the club rus run by cowboys, that the owners and directors didn’t care and the club was rotten. We had a bunch of players that didn’t care too, which the fans resented. But the documentary showed the fans in a good light and rose awareness of our club around the world. So I would say any press is good press.
Now we have a new era. A young French owner who has a footballing family. He has been around a big club for year’s. He’s been watching, learning and knows how things are on the continent. He’s fresh blood, he’s got fresh ideas and if he has good people around him he looms promising. We know he has bags of cash, but if he’s smart he won’t blow it. He will be shrewd, the family Has been part of a huge French club. Now it’s his turn.
Investment in the team is what we need to get to the premier league. Yes you are right. But we also need a owner who wants to invest in the dream, the club, the city and the fans.
Let’s support him, give him time and hopefully we will again soon have a team like Reid’s and have 4 or 5 class individuals, and maybe I can start making the journey back to a packed out SOL in the North Stand and see all 40,000 of my friends that I miss.
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Cheers for writing in, Matt. Those are some truly wonderful memories and I share your optimism that we might just be on our way back to such halcyon days right now. Like you, I just can’t wait to be back in the Stadium of Light once again.
Dear Roker Report,
To the Newcastle fan who sent the open letter about ambition...
Ambition is a great word a wonderful outlook on what, you, yourself want. But being a football fan what you want and the man with the money wants are two different things. Without getting petty, the 6 in row banter is entirely justified, because if the shoe had been on the other foot we would never have heard the end of it.
Ambtion is what you want it to be. I have Bungy jumped, parachute jumped, been round the world, lived and worked abroad, but there’s a few things a haven’t seen. Us in Europe us really challenge for the top league ...and much more but AGAIN we are at Wembley and yes, it might be the Pizza cup final, that is the level we are at so after after years of disappointment and failure it could happen, but it might not.
KLD might get pissed off and Jack it in after 18 month, we are leagues apart, but there’s one thing I do know after the the TAKEOVER. Yes takeover, not take out. I would rather be in our position than your blind optimizom, because ambition is a wonderful word!
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for your letter, Khris. The way things are going, we may very well not be leagues apart from our friends up the road for that much longer!