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Roker Ramble: It’s a Sunderland AFC, KLD and Madrox special!

... because no one in football looks like bigger herberts this week than the club we all have the unfortunate privilege of supporting.

Photo by Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

So there you have it. Kyril Louis Dreyfus owns a princely 41% of the shares in Sunderland AFC... that’s slightly more than Phil Parkinson’s win ratio during his time here.

If the latter stat is enough to drive some people to the edge, the former is likely to boot them over the precipice. Now we know and it sort of feels a bit... surprising. In the words of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, “how’d ya like them apples?”

I can smell the rats before I smell the incense, and I’ll tell you now, I don’t think this will end well. Yes, we all enjoyed the Jermain Defoe “I’m back” statement on his re-signing for the club; sadly it now feels a bit like it also applies to the men who together sound like the shittest law firm in the world: Donald, Methven & co.

It turns out that Stewart still owns 34% of the shares of this club. 34%! Is that a typo and someone with fat fingers accidentally pressed two buttons at once? Seemingly not.

“I am desperately trying to get out” he told BBC Radio Newcastle in July 2020, before performing a humongous reverse ferret in doing what now appears to be the exact opposite.

That 34% was described as a “minority” by the club before we knew just how much it was - and lo and behold, that minority is only 7% shy of Louis Dreyfus’ controlling 41% share.

So what happened? Why is he still here? Has he accidentally locked himself in his office at Black Cat House? Or maybe Richard Hill won’t let him out until he explains what on earth he was thinking spunking £3m on Will “alright lads, can’t really be bothered today” Grigg?

Stewart Donald - the fella who just will not leave the casino at 4.30am, despite being two grand down.

Or maybe this is the great big insurance salesman inside him coming out, and that we, Sunderland AFC, are his bit of insurance - the chance to make money in the future. And to be honest, who could blame him? Just come out and say so.

Sunderland v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship
Can someone let me out please?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

And then we have Charlie Methven coming in at 5%. That small figure is just enough to be really annoying. He’s like the massive chavvy writing on the back of what otherwise would be a really nice t-shirt.

Here’s the thing about Charlie, right. He is just so... easy to take the piss out of. He’s the onion with many layers to it; facets, intricacies, the lot. You could literally draw pictures of the man all day long, pastel pants included. He’s a cartoonist’s wet dream.

I mean what is an individual with the kind of views he’s forwarded about us thick northerners still doing at Sunderland AFC? And that’s where it gets a bit confusing. Because we really don’t know the end game of any of the people that have formed deep-lying roots in this club as if they’re a centuries-old f*cking oak tree.

Sunderland v Bradford City - Sky Bet League One
Did you miss me?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

They - and others - may say ‘what’s the problem?’

Well, here’s the problem, we’re now in our fourth - probably soon to be fifth season in this league. Madrox - who were always thus, but we can now once again describe as proper, bona fide custodians of this club - insisted back in 2019 and then again in 2020 that they were going to sell.

Er lads, you’ve missed off the last part of that sentence, which ended “but we’re not going to tell you how much we’re going to part with”. In Charlie’s case, it was 1%. Big wow.

That’s why people are worried - because they may make the wrong decisions that will prevent this club from ever recovering fully. They can say what they like but this is all on their watch, and up to now it’s not been great.

Ultimately it feels like these chaps are just sticking around waiting to make a profit, and in the meantime having no tangible positive benefit to Sunderland AFC. Now maybe that’s not the case, but I suspect for most fans that is the crux of the issue, and it was an issue we all knew, but this has crystallised it. For all of the bleating and whining about steadying the ship, they have collectively failed to lift this club off its knees.

But - but - profit will almost certainly only come with success, so what’s the problem?

It also matters because Sunderland fans don’t know who is funding their club, and to what extent. Donald and Methven say they are paying their pro-rata share in line with their percentage. But is the money coming directly from their own pockets? Or from elsewhere? And how long will it last given their wealth?

Charlie is a PR consultant and an ex-journalist; he and I don’t have too dissimilar careers in many ways and I’ll tell you now, I come out in hives if I spend north of £50 in Aldi. I just hope he has deep pockets, because Sunderland most certainly do not have a super 6.

Clearly, the club being sustainable is the long-term aim but right now that’s not the case, and therefore requires external help. But what happens if KLD, who will seemingly fund 41% of the operation, wants to spend more than Donald can on, say, a player or players in the summer, at a cost that is out of his and Methven’s reach? Why should he put himself in a position where he will finance the club to enrich others? If you were part of a lottery syndicate would you buy 90% of the ticket just to receive 41% of any winnings?

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy Final Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Simple questions for too long have not been met with straightforward answers. It’s almost too simple really, and there’s a fear that even asking it would be met with the patronising response “oh you silly boy, you really don’t understand football administration at all, do you?”

Because the question now is “why did you not reveal this when being asked, on repeat, for the last 12 months?” “What is your ultimate intention?” And “what effect will your continuing presence have around this football club?” And maybe the question you don’t want to answer - “do you in the long term have cash available to spend on us, you know, not falling into total f*cking oblivion? Or are you just here for the vibes?”

On Wednesday, Stewart and Charlie told The Athletic that they would be ”very happy” to sell the remainder of their shareholding “at the same level already accepted initially”. Which is an interesting statement - because that does not say “at the same value they were sold before”. Does that mean a higher price was accepted initially? Before KLD beat them down? As is so often the case, we do not know.

So all the while shares in Saxa skyrocket because of the massive vat of salt everyone on Wearside is having to take with that particular statement. Maybe this is like in Austin Powers where Dr Evil reveals his demands to not wreak havoc upon the world before naming his price - one hundred billion dollars. Because believe you me those shares will cost, and then some, no amount of obfuscation can mask that.

But, you know, they’re your shares, you can charge what you like.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Play-off Semi Final 2nd Leg Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Sunderland’s ownership group has ultimately been disingenuous in the whole process. Why? Because they have not divulged the full information that would have been fair to so many of us who spend hundreds if not thousands of pounds a year following our team. Many people bought into the club this year on the basis that Madrox were history - and statements from the club, while nuanced, strongly pointed towards this conclusion.

We all picked up the ball and ran with the thought their influence was waning, yet it turns out that the continued presence of Methven at away matches was simply an elaborate troll to the fans who frankly have had better fortnights, months, seasons and decades supporting Sunderland.

As my Dad says, fans have been treated like mushrooms - kept in the dark and fed on shite.

Methven really did peak during the early hours of his tenure here by declaring the “piss take party is over” - just now it feels like he should have added “only kidding! It’s just getting faaacking started you massive proles!” EDM continues, indeed.

But - and here is that good old balance that has been beaten into me over the years - does this all really matter? Are folk getting their knickers in a twist? Are people bending this ownership situation to fit their own narrative? To have something to say? To remain relevant? Because they’re all on Twitter for the ratio? Is that the correct terminology?

And crucially, have Madrox discharged their duty as funding shareholders? If so, what’s the problem? Simply that the face doesn’t fit? Surely we all want the same thing here because on the pitch failure is financial pain for those who own this club.

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

If the shareholders have put their fair share into the club, it’s only right to say that (until three weeks ago) they’d done a pretty decent job this season. There seemed to be a plan, direction, focus. Therefore is this just a storm in the teacup? Should we in fact be pleased that Donald, Methven and Sartori, despite owning more of the club that we would like, are continuing to fund operations?

Let’s be fair - if this club is winning, being successful and looking like they’ll get promoted, then dissenting voices quieten down and those left making noise look very much like old-man-shouting-at-clouds. Or actually would being in the Championship make things ten times worse? Until the new year, there were very few real complaints about recruitment, expenditure and the general way in which this club was being run - to the outside observer, at least. Largely because no one really knew anything about what was going on.

However, it was not knowing what was under the bonnet that concerned many. They can drive the car at 60mph, but can they push it up to 70? That however is based on past traumas with previous owners as much as it is to do with the current ones.

Kristjaan Speakman meanwhile had done a good job until he seemingly developed a water infection in late January, and should probably just have renamed himself Kristjaan Shutupman.

But then again he answers to the people above him in the food chain and ultimately does their bidding - so what were the political machinations which prevented him from being able to take a decision about our new manager, all the while leaving Lloyd bloody Christmas in charge?

New Sunderland Manager Press Conference
He doesn’t know I’m going to sack him yet
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Look - all of this doesn’t matter if the club is winning - but right now it isn’t.

Frankly, it’s Alex Neil I feel sorry for. Before he was even announced as Sunderland manager, he was pictured at Durham train station in Sunderland kit looking - to put it mildly - miserable as f*ck.

To quote Rob McElhenney, regarding Wrexham’s toils in the fifth tier, which also apply to us: “Official statement from the co-chairman: We need to get out of this f*cking league”.

Winning games is the best remedy. It will make most things go away.

Only then will the waters calm for Stewart, Methven and co.

Actually, maybe it’ll get choppier.

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