When Madrox arrived in May 2018 they were treated by the majority of supporters almost like messiah figures. These down-to-earth, likeable, ‘drinks in the pub’ type fellas were seen as a breath of fresh air. The club was at a low ebb having being relegated to the third tier for only the second time in our history, but these men were set to become the shining light in the resurgence - or so we thought.
It was clear from the off that Methven was an experienced PR man. The group collectively talked a good game, but to me the old expression ‘too good to be true’ sprung to mind.
Talks of us possessing the biggest budget in League One may have been true, but also raised the appetite for success and expectation.
They talked as if promotion was a mere formality, and little was mentioned if the unlikely happened, and that we could end up spending a second season in the third tier.
Another key mistake was the promise to be open and transparent with the fans. The previous owner Ellis Short was a very distant figure, who seemed to know or care very little about the fans or the club itself. In Donald and Methven we went from one extreme to the other. Donald in particular seemed to enjoy his status at the start of the reign, sitting with supporters at away matches and giving fans soundbites on goings-on at the club. This is all well and good if things are going great guns, but eventually it created a problem when things weren’t going to plan.
From appearing on podcasts, answering questions on Twitter, speaking to fanzines and doing talk ins, to failing to attend matches and shutting his social media accounts down - in the end, all it proved was that talk is cheap and suddenly when fans really wanted answers, they were nowhere to be seen.
They made it clear from the start that newly-appointed manager Jack Ross was expected to lead the club to promotion at the first attempt. So much was made of the first season being the key beginning of success, and it was viewed very much as the first step of the rebuild.
Ross was specifically targeted by the owners as the man to lead the charge out of League One, and on the face of it, it appeared that he enjoyed a good relationship with Donald and Methven. After the failure to get promoted, Ross admitted himself he hadn’t achieved his goal. It seemed then quite obvious that the manager should have been relieved of his duties, but yet he stayed for one third of the following season. It appeared that the board had put their personal feelings towards the man himself above what was best for the club.
There was a long-held belief that the pair didn’t have the finances to back up their claims. From the start, the idea that these relatively small-time businessmen were buying a large club the size of Sunderland seemed a strange one.
Uncertainty over an array of matters continued to hang over Donald, who struggled to convince some people that he was to be taken seriously as a club owner. He didn’t help matters by allowing the departure of important first teamers like Josh Maja to occur, and academy prospects like Bali Mumba and Logan Pye - all for fees. The claims that Donald and Methven didn’t have the right kind of money to develop the club, and that they had bitten off more than they could chew, seemed to get stronger and stronger.
Fans also grew tired of seemingly empty gestures from the owners. The Netflix docuseries may have made for great television as an outsider, but when it’s your club involved, it’s not quite as enjoyable. The pair appeared to want to have too much of a starring role - from Donald side-stepping questions at a talk in, to Methven’s now infamous ‘David Brent’ style request to have Ibiza anthems blasting out before the game.
Another PR move that was well-received at the time was the Stadium of Light seat change. While it looked as if it was a good idea to get fans to muck in together, it could be flipped and seen as an exercise in cost-cutting.
Their motives were constantly questioned. Why did they buy this club? Any business owner is entitled to see a return on their investment, but to some it felt like they were here to make a quick buck and take advantage of the club’s misfortune.
The more and more they talked, the less sincere it came across to fans.
After close to three years, their time in control of this football club has come to end - and sadly for Donald in particular, his time as owner and chairman will not be looked upon favourably. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!