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Fan Letters: Anger, frustration, and calls for fans to take a share in Sunderland AFC

The revelations about shareholdings at Sunderland AFC have sparked our readers into life. Is a boycott the answer, or can we do something more productive? What do you think?

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Dear Roker Report,

With revelations in the last few days that Madrox still hold a significant stake in Sunderland AFC – 59 percent between Stewart Donald, Juan Sartori, and Charlie Methven – fans can be forgiven for feeling misled and spurned – to put it lightly.

What this (still developing) situation shows is that for as long as Madrox continues to be associated with Sunderland AFC to the extent that they currently are, there can be no “new era” or “clean slate.”

And more importantly, it also shows that fan representation, particularly at a boardroom level, is more needed than ever.

There can only be one reason that individuals who have previously resigned their directorships and stated publicly that they want no business in the future of the football club still, frustratingly, remain – they are looking to turn a profit.

The continued presence of Madrox as majority shareholders in Sunderland is predicated on one desire – to see the club get promoted and their shares sold, most likely to Kyril Louis Dreyfus, at an inflated, Championship price.

Yet at the same time, it is the continued presence of Madrox that is making that very same scenario all the more difficult to achieve, at the expense of the long-term future of the club and its fans.

Absentee shareholders can be expected to look out solely for their own future. And it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume that this relationship with the club from some of it’s shareholders has come at the detriment to the search for a new manager in previous weeks, and the maintenance of the club’s infrastructure.

This ultimately makes any promotion – and with it, the end of Madrox’s presence at the club – unlikely.

Going forward, trust will be hard to rebuild. With both Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven claiming that they are open to selling their remaining shares in the club, this should be a priority of the utmost importance for Kyril Louis Dreyfus.

But it shouldn’t stop there. A new arrangement is needed, one that recognizes that a club like Sunderland, and indeed, any football club in the country, isn’t just a business, but a shared resource for the community at large, with all the tangible socio-economic and intangible emotional connections this entails.

Sunderland fans relied on the good word of the club that the last year represented a new era, one with a clear plan, structure, and most importantly, leadership, now in place on both the footballing and non-footballing fronts.

Whether the results of that new system will bear fruits at the end of the season still remains to be seen. Yet it’s clear that a new system of fan representation and engagement is sorely needed, to ensure that supporters aren’t left out in the dark – and worse, lied to – anymore.

Whether through a reserved spot on the Board of Directors, or by mobilizing the funds of a fans trust to purchase a small stake in the club, the outcome of this latest saga needs to be one in which the fans fill the void left by Madrox’s eventual – and much longed for – departure.

Best,

Matthew Stafford

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for your letter, Matthew. I absolutely agree that it’s now time for us to organise to take a stake in the club and have enhanced oversight of the institution that sits at the centre of our city and of so many of our lives. If the club was forward thinking, innovative, and proactive, it would take steps to implement the Golden Share and Shadow Board. These are things that have been done elsewhere - as I mentioned in my piece on Tuesday, Liverpool FC created such a board only two months ago. They’re both recommendations of the Fan Led Review, and if Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Juan Sartori wanted to implement them, they could set the necessary processes going immediately.

As for a more formal ownership of actual shares, it’s for members of Red & White Army to request that the current committee begins steps in this direction. We need to be clear-eyed about what the cost of this will be and how difficult it is for a group of ordinary citizens with ordinary salaries during the biggest cost-of-living crisis for decades to raise sufficient funds. Even a 1% shareholding is likely to cost hundreds of thousands.

We also need to be aware that with share ownership comes ongoing financial responsibility at a time when the club is probably not making a profit, and that if it was the Trust to own the shares and/or potentially take a seat on the executive board of the club, then the person to take that role will need to be skilled, democratically legitimate, and have the time to commit to the role.

None of this is to say it’s impossible. Sunderland’s men drew away at a fan-owned club that’s managed to build it’s own brand new stadium in one of the most expensive parts of the most expensive city in Europe last Saturday, and whilst their operation is on a different scale to ours, the folks at AFC Wimbledon give us hope.

It needs people to lead, organise, to stay the course, to commit and to learn how to do it. It requires people with vision, people who look for solutions not just problems. But it is not unrealistic.

AFC Wimbledon v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
The people who make AFC Wimbledon what it is
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

The last couple of weeks have been eventful to say the absolute least, with still many unanswered questions and unrest upon the fan base failing to waiver despite us appointing Alex Neil.

In terms of the Alex Neil appointment, the whole appointment and subsequent announcement was so low key thats its bordering on offensive towards Alex. Where were the scarf photos? Where were the official photos of him holding an SAFC shirt? The clubs announcement used a photo of him whilst he was at Norwich. Its almost as though the club couldnt be bothered charging the battery packs on their camera’s so thought they would skip that important bit.

Also, I am concerned that he is only on a 12 month rolling contract. This, to me, means that either the club arent convinced he is the man for us or, Alex himself is not convinced he will stick around. Surely if its a case of “get us promoted or your position is in danger” then a contract until the end of the season would have been more appropriate? If, and I hope he does, do well for us, Championship and even Premier League clubs will be wanting to snap him up. On a rolling contract, he will have no hesitation taking the bait and going.

It all just screams that the club has no long term plan, despite what they cry.

Still rotten to the core.

Kind Regards,

Liam Maynard

Ed’s Note [Rich]: While we’ve no idea about the ins and outs of the contract negotiation, I have to agree, Liam, that my preference would be for Alex Neil to have been brought in on a longer term contract, as what we’re desperate for is some stability and long-term planning and investment across the board at the club. Having a coach in place who can build on what is already an undoubtedly talented squad, who can galvanise them and make his own additions too, is key. I personally think that, despite all the machinations over the past few weeks, despite the chaotic and inexperienced decision making, that Alex Neil isn’t a bad choice and may fit that bill.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Can arguably say that today (Tuesday the 15th) was a shocker of shockers and yet, it wasn’t. Hindsight being 20/20, there always seemed like there was something “off” about the ownership situation with it not being known exactly who was in charge and who owned what part of the club.

Now we know.

Percentage wise, KLD owns the biggest share of the club, but Madrox owns the most collectively and is (unless there’s more details that are not yet known) more or less still in charge. Fans/supporters as a whole are right to be extremely maddened by this as we all were effectively lied to and misled.

My only experience of a situation like this is as a Milwaukee Brewers fan. From the team’s inception in 1969 up to 1993, the club was a very well-run organization that was always at or near the top of the standings (highest point being losing the 1982 World Series 4 games to 3).

The change came after the 1993 season when the team’s owner at the time, Bud Selig, became MLB’s commissioner and he handed ownership of the team to his daughter Wendy Selig-Prieb. Within 10 years the team had been so thoroughly run into the ground they were losing 90-100 games a year (this would be the equivalent of SAFC going from the Premier League to the National League North) and average attendances were under 10k/game over the course of 81 home games per season and were being threatened with contraction (administration, more or less).

The team’s fans got lucky in that in 2004 a new owner was found that made good on his word of operating the club correctly and the team is now, once again, at or near the top of the standings since 2007. Before that, obviously fans/supporters showed how little they cared for the club by just not showing up and not supporting it.

That might be what we need to do depending on how RAWA’s meeting on 16 February (tomorrow as of this writing) goes. If it goes poorly, supporters just need to not show up to games anymore and stop financially supporting the club. AKA “speaking with our wallets”.

I hope it doesn’t come to that, but only time will tell. We may, as concerned fans/supporters, have to take extreme measures like that.

Thanks,

Azlynn

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for writing in again Azlynn. The lesson from Milwaukee Brewers seems to be that success on the pitch in any sport comes with sustained investment and attention from people who know what they’re doing. As for fan activism, I agree that the Structured Dialogue meeting on Wednesday is really important, but as we won’t know what is said there for a little while, I am personally not in favour of boycotting home games or calling for people who would otherwise renew their season cards as a matter of course to not do so this time round.

I get that it’s easy for me to say as someone who lives hundreds of miles away, and I respect others who take a different stance. It’s a matter of tactics, in that sense.

I get that it’s about forcing the hand of Louis-Dreyfus but hitting him and the other shareholders where it hurts, yet I think it’s probably counter productive and divisive - those who don’t stay away will be seen as scabs, those who do as wreckers. Such actions would starve the club of it’s main source of revenue, which will only damage our longer term financial position.

And more than anything else, it does nothing at all help Alex Neil and the squad achieve the one thing we all long for - promotion out of this bloody league.

For me, there are other ways to show your displeasure, and other things that we can put our collective energy into that will benefit the club in the long term.

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Milwaukee Brewers - Game One
Milwaukee Brewers fans react after a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Atlanta Braves during game one of the National League division series at American Family Field on October 08, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

When the news broke that the Madrox boys were still majority shareholders, I think all Sunderland fans, like myself, were outraged. KLD will argue that he told no lies, he did aquire SD’s controlling stake. However, 41% does NOT mean he has control. Madrox hindered our spending ability (by taking the parachute payments and not paying them back yet), stripped our academy to the bare bones and made promises they couldn’t keep. When they bought SAFC they must’ve thought they’d struck lucky, “Stay 1 year. Cut costs. Get promoted. Sell. Walk away with big profit”. Instead, they got stuck with a club they couldn’t afford, spent ages selling it, then ended up selling only some of it so that when SAFC gain promotion back to the C’ship or PL they can cash in.

It’s time we Sunderland fans did something about this. We all need to pull together and buy out Madrox, starting with Charlie’s 5%. If Madrox ‘bought’ the club at £40 million then that would value CM’s 5% at £2 million.

If we just count season ticket holders (around 20,000) then it would only take those 20,000 to put in £100 each. That would be enough to get CM’s claws out of SAFC. And that’s just season ticket holders, Sunderland have a huge fan base which would be capable of not only taking CM’s shares but also some of SD’s.

This is our club. We have to take our club back.

Malachi Donnelly

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Cheers for writing in, Malachi. You’re right, the ability to raise the money to buy-out Methven is probably there amongst our huge fanbase - but it needs leadership, organisation, and drive in order to do this. We can’t just wish such a fund into existence - it has to be organised and led by the Supporters Trust, which has the capacity and democratic legitimacy to do this. But they will only act if their members demand it.

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

Dear Roker Report,

I have supported SAFC since 1958 from over 6000 miles away in Cape Town and now in St. Helena Bay up the Cape West Coast. I have had enough of this shareholders crap. Because I am thick skinned I will continue until the end of the season then that’s it. What does our New Manager think about this as it is all so sad.

Andy Holland

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for your note, Andy, and I agree that it’s sad and frustrating. But the city motto - Nil Desperandum - comes to mind. Don’t give up - fight for what you want our club to be so that it’s better for the next generations of fans all over the world.

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