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Sunderland v Swansea City - Premier League

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Fan Letters: It’s a funny old game... especially when you support Sunderland AFC!

Do you remember when we used to write actual letters? If not, imagine long form tweets that you had to think about before posting. Anyway, here’s some emails we’ve received...

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Ed’s Note: These letters were all received before the news broke on Tuesday of the shareholdings at Sunderland AFC.

Dear Roker Report,

So far I am liking Alex Neil as our new manager. Very straightforward, no-nonsense kind of person and speaks in the same way. A complete 180 (and vast improvement upon) Lee Johnson! Especially as all it took was a single 40 minute training session backed up by a so-so game (that we were probably lucky to salvage a draw out of) for him to realize what everyone has been saying for at least a month (and that LJ was in apparent denial about): the team needs rotating!

I just hope that AN has some magic up his sleeve to get us back on track and overcome the team’s deficiencies he’s inherited. I don't feel the season is “lost” like some are saying, but right now we’d be hard pressed to stay in the playoff positions with how our current form is. I do think our form will rebound, but to what extent is obviously unknown. We also are not in a terrible position either as things currently stand.

Sitting in 4th at 55 points (with 5-7 being our closest competition below us) yet only 4 points adrift of Wigan in 2nd (Rotherham are pretty much secure in 1st right now barring a miracle collapse).

I honestly believe Wigan can be caught, even with having 4 games in hand cuz of “covid” as thier form has been faltering and they’ll have the dreaded fixture pile-up at the end of the season (the same thing that’s helped to doom our last few promotion pushes).

Who knows what will happen and how things will shake out, but it should be a fun rollercoaster to the end of the season!


Ed’s Note [Rich]: Cheers for getting in touch, Azlynn. This season is not done and dusted, that’s for sure. If Neil can get these lads playing how we know they can (and somehow contour up a central defender or two) then we are still in with a shout. And if it means going up with a glorious victory at Wembley, I’ll take that (although I’m not sure my nerves will)!

Middlesbrough v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
A man who knows his own mind, Alex Neil
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

The manger circus is over, for another season at least. Alex Neil seems highly regarded by the Norwich and Preston fans I’ve spoken to which is really encouraging especially with him operating at a higher level.

There had been a lot of talk of the owners having to get that 2 week period after sacking Johnson right. Lots of hyperbole about KLD era collapsing early or at best their decisions and appointment defining the season.

I now view the upcoming 3 fixtures as season defining. The draw with Wimbledon wasn’t great but stopped the losing run. If we beat MK Don’s who currently sit 3rd, followed by Burton and continue that with Wigan at the SOL we really could put ours back into automatic promotion contention.

The new coaching team have a full week of preparation, that with the new manager bounce effect and hopefully momentum of 9 points from next 9 should see us climb the league

James Duffy

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Like you, James, I’m really looking forward to what Alex Neil can bring to the club - he seems honest, dynamic, forward-thinking and meticulous. He’s not some tired old dinosaur of a manager looking for another payday, he’s dropping down a level to join a club that still has massive potential - despite everything.

AFC Bournemouth v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
How big’s the task at Sunderland, Alex?
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’m sure I speak for the majority when I say Methven is never and will never be welcome. He knows that as he doesn’t have the balls to show his face at the SoL, but he does have the gall to turn up to away days all cosy with the directors.

I see him as scum. Treats us fans with absolute contempt, and whilst recent results and an apparent boardroom circus haven’t helped my dismay, seeing Methven’s fat pompous head is the final middle finger.

We need answers this week from the RAWA meeting as the fanbase won’t be taken for fools any longer. They’re in real danger of losing supporters- it’s that serious. I’d like the trust KLD, and I have placed faith in him up to now. However, that goodwill is dwindling - especially when you see the man he once labelled an “asset-stripper” sat cosying up to him at games.

I’m livid, but I’m more so concerned as to what the hell is going on.

Simon Brown

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Like you and 99 per cent of us, Simon, I want the original Madrox boys to repay what they owe the club, sell up and never show their faces at a Sunderland match again. In the meantime I want answers about the implications of the fact that Madrox retain a majority share and what the decision making processes are that give KLD executive control.

I’ve also personally got questions about what the implications are of one of our larger shareholders being a director of AS Monaco - but that one tends to get lost in the haze.

While we all have our different things that make us question whether we will keep ploughing our money and time and energy into this club, I personally don’t get why someone would stop watching their team because an obnoxious former CEO still has some shares... the Mags still go even though a murderer owns theirs. But then football’s a funny old game isn't it.

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League One
One of these people is a billionaire who is a Director of both Sunderland AFC and AS Monaco... the other two are not.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Methven supposedly has no say in the day to day, yet is interviewing managers. Is sat next to KLD at games

Has called us ‘parasites’ and ‘stupid’ in the past. Has shown us utter disdain. Has failed to get the biggest club probably to ever play at this level, out of the 3rd tier.

Right now I’m also pretty confident I’m arguing with him on our message board about what a crap job he’s done.

Ultimately I want him out. Given how pally your platform was with him in the past I don’t trust that you’re the channel to help in doing so.

I also doubt you’ll have the balls to share this mail in a public setting.

We are where we are.

Craig Brown

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Cheers for writing in Craig, we’re happy to publish your thoughts. Like you, I’m not privy to what goes on inside the corridors of power at Sunderland AFC. I have no idea who was involved in selecting candidates or interviewing potential new manager, I can only see that Phil Smith asked why members of the previous ownership group were “said to be in dialogue with potential candidates”. That is literally all we have to go on... that plus the newly revealed information on the ownership structure and what’s previously been said about day-to-day involvement.

How much we can trust anything that comes out of the club officially or otherwise is another matter altogether. Maybe one day someone will write a book about all of this, but I think the best we can do for now is hope we’re not in the market for a new manager again in the foreseeable future.

Dear Roker Report,

Ahead of this meeting happening... first and foremost (and no disrespect to anyone involved in the RAWA group) but what traction is gained on the back of these meetings? I’m all for constructively raising points with the club… but does anything actually happen on the back of these talks?

With that in mind, I’d be asking:

- will full and detailed minutes be published afterwards? (17th / 18th say)

- what ‘rights’ does a minority shareholder get?

(Methven can attend games, whether we like it or not I’m afraid, but aside from owning a small stake in the club what other perks is he getting)

- who conducted manager interviews?

- who signed Defoe / sold Flanagan?

- does KLD plan to ‘buy out’ minority shareholders eventually?

- what do Madrox make, per annum, out of SAFC

- what do Madrox stand to make, if / when SAFC gain promotion to Championship

- Is part of KLD’s wealth withheld from him?

- Is part of KLD’s wealth earmarked to be ‘unleashed’ (for want of a better phrase) AFTER promotion

On the whole £20m owed back… I’ve always thought an independent investigation is needed here. An expose piece / journalism piece feels absolutely necessary (with Finance / Accountancy specialists consulted along the way) outside of a supporters group

Maybe you guys, plus other fanzine / podcast / group reps could bang the drum on this. Surely, surely we have connected supporters who could, if we’re serious about getting to the heart of the matter, open a few doors here.

Harnessing the impact of social media warrants a coming together of RR, ALS, WMS etc etc to make one voice as loud as possible, rather than everyone shouting at the same time

Keep up the good work, and best of luck to the RAWA guys!

Mark Traynor

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for your letter, Mark. That list sets out pretty clearly the questions I think that every fan of every club has a legitimate right to know the answers to. Ownership (which we’ve now belatedly been made aware of) and decision making processes should be transparent. And Red & White Army and the Branch Liaison Council are the right people to have those discussions with the club.

As for investigations into the detail financial goings on - that’s definitely for better resourced publications that this one to go into, I guess. I do know that loans between companies that are part of the same group are pretty common practice, but that doesn’t make it morally right for money to be taken out of the club and not to be repaid. I think the last thing we heard about the £20m was that some of it had come back into the club from Donald during covid, and that the rest is still to be recovered.

The Structured Dialogue process is well established and laid down by the Football Supporters Association; they provide the basis upon which the owners and directors of football club can meet with elected and nominated representatives of the fanbase in a way that allows for open discussion without, ideally, anyone feeling that they will be hung out to dry or forced to give away commercially sensitive information.

That’s why the minutes have to be agreed between all parties before they’re released, and are generally just summaries rather than verbatim accounts as this allows for people to speak candidly.

The process has important benefits, and allows for groups like RAWA and others to ask about the more everyday concerns of fans such as ticketing and accessibility, present ideas and challenge them to do more on tackling racism and other forms of discrimination (at the last meeting the club was presented with the Premier League’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equality Standards, for example, and they will be asking if they’ve acted to appoint a director to take charge of their implementation).

These are more prosaic, less exciting, and incremental improvements but actually make a material difference to the match day experience. They can represent the quieter voices, the more marginalised in our fanbase, those who don’t regularly tweet or write or podcast about the club but whose interests need to be aired and considered.

I have stepped down as Roker Report’s coopted rep with RAWA, but I still have a big interest in the governance of the the game and particularly the implementation of the recommendations of the Crouch Review. When the UK Government gets it’s arse in gear and responds to the report, which calls for the Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF) to be established and for formal “Shadow Boards” to be appointed at each club to enhance oversight of the financial dealings of clubs, this kind of situation will hopefully be a thing of the past.

Labour Party Conference
Tracey Crouch MP, who headed up the Fan Led Review of football, has urged the government to get on with implementing the recommendations of her report released in 2021.
Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images

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