As a football club, we change managers more often than we change our socks. We’re used to evaluating a potential new gaffer, figuring out what’s to come, and judging him by results.
New owners are something we’re a little less accustomed to, however.
Back in my early days of supporting Sunderland, the mid 80s, Bob Murray had just taken over from Tom Cowie and, once he’d seen off a coup by ‘rebel shareholder’ Barry Batey, he was very much focused on the off field stuff.
A new ground was always Bob Murray’s target – for a few years we thought that would be at Nissan; we ended up at Wearmouth. It was clear he wanted to leave a legacy, leave long-lasting improvement. And in one sense he did.
On the field, however, Murray failed to put his hand in his pocket when it mattered most. He failed to back Denis Smith, he failed to back Peter Reid until it was too late, and while the infrastructure in terms of the Stadium of Light and the Academy are hugely important, his legacy is tainted somewhat by the state he left the club in.
Whether rumours of pending administration at the time were exaggerating the status of the club, the 15 point season and subsequent redundancies that ensued upon relegation meant it wasn’t a happy place by the time Murray departed in 2006, after 20 years at the helm.
Next in line were Drumaville, led by Quinny who loved and understood the club. He was great at the PR side. He spoke often – and we wanted to listen. Magic carpet, you bet.
Taking over after relegation, Drumaville were focused on the quick fix – get things right on the football side. Keane was appointed, and he was well backed – too well backed in all honesty. And when the Irish economy went south Quinny looked to the Deep South and enticed Ellis Short to the club. The magic carpet, it seemed, had little substance to it.
Short, whose heart seems to have been in the right place, rarely spoke publicly but continued to plough money in – he was desperate to maintain Premier League status, at all costs. But key administrative appointments were flawed, and they ultimately led to the downfall of the club after Short seemingly lost interest in the whole thing. The whole thing collapsed like the proverbial pack of cards.
Donald and Co then came along after essentially being gifted the club by Short given the sizeable debt write off, and promised the earth. They were initially very good at selling the dream, telling the fans what they wanted to hear. They got rid of players who’d taken the piss and all seemed good. It all sounded good.
The tarted up the ground with our help, under the guise of building bridges, an initiative I still believe had the right intentions and worked well.
However, as time quickly progressed, there was little substance to their bluster, and hollow promises became more evident by the month.
Lessons to learn from the past
Over the past 35 years, there’s only Murray who’s been in it for the long-term – and he just didn’t have the desire or the financial clout to invest into the playing side of things. His two successors had the opposite approach, partly due to the infrastructure Murray had put in place, but also due to not envisaging being around to see a long-term strategy bear fruit.
Donald et al, as it turned out, were here to sell the club from day one. They had little interest in investing off the field, and hoped we’d get back up quickly, which we failed to do. Mediocrity quickly became the norm.
The only ounce of credit you can give them is that they seemingly have managed to create a streamlined off-field level of staff and brought costs down – an important consideration for any potential new owner.
At the time of writing, we’ve not yet heard from our new overlord, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus. Apart from the club statement, in which he ticked the predictable boxes, we’ve heard little so far – it seems like half-time tomorrow night will be the first chance we have to hear what he’s got to say.
And, of course, it’ll be interesting to do so.
But, we’ve read a few reports on the long-term, sustainable approach he plans to take in (re)building a football club with a strong football team. We’ve heard talk of the academy being central to this plan, we’ve heard he’s going to move to the area and be hands-on.
It all sounds very good. But already he’s taken action.
- He’s set the ball rolling for a new footballing structure led by Speakman – job ads have gone up for data analysts, and new appointments at the academy and to head up recruitment seem imminent.
- Speakman has announced the re-structuring of the academy, with Lewis Dickman stepping up to become Academy Manager, and Leann Cowperthwaite becoming Head of Academy Operations. Stewart English - who previously worked at Brentford - arrives from Birmingham City to become our new Head Of Coaching.
- The club’s streaming service is being upgraded to four cameras as of Tuesday; this is something we’ve all hoped for and Louis-Dreyfus evidently sees value in.
- Highly-regarded supporter liaison officer Chris Waters has been taken off furlough and starts full time again today.
- And, as reported on our site today, there are reports of investment into world-class pitch lighting to help the quality of the pitch.
These four things will vary in degrees of importance to people, but it’s so heartening to see some of those problems we’ve bemoaned over recent months and years being addressed quickly.
The early signs suggest that we are back to being a football club doing things properly (hopefully not over extravagantly) rather than on the cheap, and it’s so very promising to see.
Hopefully, this is a long-term ‘project’ for KLD. He’s in a fortunate position to some extent, taking the club on at its lowest point in history. He’s got plenty of ‘easy wins’ to quickly address, and expectation is at an all-time low. If we get into the play-offs this season the majority of us will be satisfied; that’s the harsh reality of where we are.
But that’s of benefit to KLD. He can put things in place, lay foundations from which our hopeful renaissance can be built.
Taking over after a transfer window, he has bought himself time.
A united front
This is our club, it’s something each of us care deeply about, and while we will disagree about aspects of it we ultimately all want the best for it.
No one wants to be arguing over the ownership.
No one wants to be arguing about levels of acceptance that we’re in division three.
But that’s what’s occupied a lot of time since April 2019.
As we’ve witnessed over the past three seasons, actions speak a lot louder than words.
And while it’ll be interesting to listen to Louis-Dreyfus tomorrow night, I for one hope he does the vast majority of his talking by the actions he takes, rather than delivering self-serving platitudes, ambitious promises and bold statements on a daily basis.
Of course, semi-regular communication is nice, but all that really matters is the actions he takes.
And if he continues in the manner he’s started – paying equal attention to the on-field and the off-field, we could be on the verge of something genuinely exciting.
Here’s hoping. Best of luck, Kyril!