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Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Semi Final - First Leg - Stadium of Light

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It’s been a very ‘Sunderland’ kind of week, but seeing the bigger picture is key

Following our Wembley triumph, the waters have turned decidedly choppy, but nobody can lose sight of what is most important for this club and its immediate future.

Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

After ten days that have been both surreal and somewhat nervy for everyone connected with the club, the old maxim really does feel appropriate: it’s never dull supporting Sunderland, is it?

On the positive side, season ticket sales for 2022/2023 passed the 28,000 mark and Ross Stewart finally made his long-overdue debut for Scotland.

In contrast, we were also learning about the pitfalls of crypto and fan token investment, and a row was beginning to simmer after Thorben Hoffmann spoke out regarding his Covid-19 diagnosis and subsequent medical care.

It wasn’t exactly what we hoped for in the aftermath of promotion, but stress-free summers simply don’t happen on Wearside these days. One day, we will experience an offseason that doesn’t feature negative stories and worrisome episodes, but it is anyone’s guess when that time will finally arrive.

As he stood on the Wembley balcony in the aftermath of our playoff success, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus must have felt the sheer power of a unified Sunderland fanbase as we took almost the entire capacity of the Stadium of Light to London, in a remarkable show of loyalty and belief.

As someone who has long been connected to football through family ties, Dreyfus has to recognise the potential at his fingertips as custodian of Sunderland and that, if he can unlock it, something special could be built.

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 1st Leg Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

There is, and has been for some time, a consensus that the club cannot expedite its progress until Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven have sold their shares and departed for good. That remains as true today as ever, with the need to fund second-tier football looming large.

The more glaring issue, however, is to whom they sell when the time finally comes, and what the plans of their successors might be.

Enter ‘The Fans Together’ who broke cover last week.

At first glance, it appeared questionable at best and downright shady at worst.

Since the news emerged, our own Rich Speight and Davey Browne have done a sterling job, via two podcasts and multiple written articles, of breaking down the complexities of this issue and providing vital information to many of us who might not be well-versed in the sector.

Football Clubs Token Coins Photo Illustrations Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We have also been indebted to the expertise of Martin Calladine and James Cave, whose podcast appearance offered some crucial insights into TFT, their background, and their reputation, none of which ought to fill anyone with confidence.

Suffice it to say, what has been uncovered was alarming, and a million miles away from what we need at this moment in time.

Sunderland AFC is not a commodity to be subjected to experiments with left-field ownership models and PR schemes based around flashy virtual currency. If the shareholding of Donald and Methven is to be sold, it must pass into the hands of responsible people, with the resources and the expertise to help us progress over the coming years.

We are a proud, historical football club with fans that will follow the team all the way, but there are limits to this, and trying to lure supporters into a risky ownership scheme with grandiose ideas and promises of this, that, or the other absolutely smacks of opportunism and must be rejected outright.

Assuming this interest remains alive, the EFL and their highly questionable ‘fit and proper owners test’ will come under the spotlight once again. History tells us that confidence in their governance and procedures should not be high, but this time, it must be different.

As everyone knows, the EFL have form for allowing ruthless, opportunistic sharks to gain control of teams within the football pyramid. The turmoil experienced by Derby County, Bury, and Bolton Wanderers are three recent examples of what can happen when things are mismanaged, and greed and profit are prioritised over the health of a club.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson Visits Football Club Bury FC Photo Danny Lawson - WPA Pool/Getty Images

In addition, the EFL are not exactly known for showing any real urgency when the very existence of clubs is threatened, but it is imperative that they take as hard a line as possible on this issue and ensure that SAFC is safeguarded.

Simply put, they cannot use ignorance as an excuse to wave through any deal, and hopefully, what has emerged recently will demonstrate that this is not an appropriate way forward.

There ought to be a genuine sense of optimism swirling around Sunderland at the moment, but it is in danger of being replaced by an all-too-familiar feeling of sharks circling and the fans being left in the dark.

As the playoff final begins to fade into the rear view mirror, there should be cause to look ahead with real excitement.

If and when this ludicrous scheme is consigned to the dustbin, hopefully we can do just that, and put another flirtation with a worrying ownership model behind us.

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