Does history repeat itself? On this evidence, you’d be hard-pressed to present an argument to the contrary.
Twenty-nine years ago to this very day, the issue of Sunderland’s shares was raging, fuelled to a large extent by the stratospheric rise of that lot up the road.
While the Keegan bandwagon was quickly picking up steam, winning the league and landing Peter Beardsley to lead their Premier League charge, Sunderland had scraped survival under Terry Butcher, and the club was coming under serious pressure.
It could – should – have been all so different. Just two years before, we’d given an excellent account of ourselves in the top flight, the exciting young team managed by Denis Smith only falling on the last day of the season, and winning a great many admirers in the progress.
While the quest to bounce back immediately failed – the sale of Marco Gabbiadini and the subsequent sacking of Smith primarily to blame – we’d reached the FA Cup Final, bringing in some decent money and global attention.
Over the road, Newcastle just survived relegation to the third tier.
Fast forward 12 months, backed by the ambitious former Sunderland season ticket holder John Hall – whose alleged attempts to buy into Sunderland had been rebuffed – and under the management of the inspirational Kevin Keegan – Newcastle soared into the Premier League.
This, of course, was made all the worse by the fact they were led from midfield by Paul Bracewell – the man who’d led us out at Wembley 12 months earlier.
Sunderland, meanwhile, scraped survival at Meadow Lane, by virtue of other teams’ failings as opposed to our own successes.
The differing fortunes combined to put significant pressure on chairman Bob Murray, who the Sunderland fans believed was holding the club back.
Murray had taken over as chairman six years earlier, wrestling control of the club from Tom Cowie after the Lawrie McMenemy debacle. But it was his predecessor who was piling on the pressure – pledging to buy out Bob Murray as the club languished.
Cowie made public an offer to buy Murray out in the Sunderland Echo, and the need to invest between £5m and £10m into the club, although he was adamant while he was happy to own the club he didn’t want to be involved in the running of it.
He told The Journal:
I hope this causes enough thought to get action from the people in there. I don’t want to be personally involved. I’ve had enough of football to last me for the rest of my life. But, if by chance Mr Murray decided he would sell to me, then I would buy and I would find people thinking along the same lines as myself that would be perspired to have a go and spend some money. I’ll be piggy in the middle.
He should make his shares available at the same price as they were made available to him.
I suppose it’s semi provocative. I’m a true-blue Sunderland man. You get depressed when you see such a poor quality team representing Sunderland.
What you have at the moment is a situation where the club is virtually owned by the chairman. In those circumstances the only person that can be expected to put money in is him. If he is not prepared to do it he should pass on to another chairman to do it.
You can’t run a football team if you are not prepared to spend money.
Admittedly, it doesn’t always bring success, but you aren’t going to get it with 34-year-olds [a reference to the signing of Mick Harford a few months earlier]. There has to be a positive approach.
There are a number of people in this country who would jump at the chance of being involved with a club like Sunderland and having the opportunity of putting it on the map instead of pussyfooting about.
What I would like to see is Mr Murray performing the way I anticipated he would. When is he going to put in some money? You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
To talk of a situation where we have a multi-million pound stadium when we have not got a team to put into it does not seem to make a lot of sense.
The public ‘put up or get out’ declaration from Cowie was soon followed by a statement – released by a PR company, Cartmell Public Relations on behalf of Murray and the board – shortly afterwards.
The present board has been more generous to the club than any other in its long, distinguished history. We would not wish to deny the club and its supporters the fresh injection of £10m that Sir Tom will make. In some instances, the application of large sums of money do bring success. The board acts in a manner where only the clubs come first.
Sir Tom has stated that he is committed to becoming a majority shareholder and a director. Therefore, on fulfilment of Sir Tom’s offer, the four non-executive directors will resign en bloc.
The directors will not seek to profit and will only require the return of the true real cost of their financial commitment, and this will enable Sir Tom to inject the funds that he has publicly committed.
During the term of office of the current board, the club has won a championship, plus promotion and an FA Cup final appearance, as well as gaining the respect of many within the game.
The club has become the national leader in its community work, which has been recognised on many occasions with prestigious awards.
The board of directors is very reluctant to be leaving the club and is pleased that it is in a strong financial position, thereby giving Sir Tom more than a clean sheet.
The board is extremely pleased that Sir Tom believes in the £120m stadium complex and its absolute importance for the future of the city and the region.
The board wishes to stress the European status it will bring, the much needed significant new employment, plus unique conference, exhibition and arena facilities, and, most importantly, make Sunderland a great club once again. This has been successfully progressed with great drive and ambition over three years with very hard work, and this must not be allowed to fail.
The board also recognises on behalf of the supporters, the need to avoid uncertainty which might arise out of Sir Tom’s recent remarks in the media, and would respectfully suggest that he completes his offer as soon as possible.
The board agree with Sir Tom’s remark that the club will always be bigger than any one individual or personally.
The Sunderland chairman, Bob Murray, added: “We would wish Sir Tom well in the future success of the club for everyone. We hope that he will learn on a second coming and not make a repetition of the notorious Lawrie McMenemy episode because the club, quite simply cannot afford any more embarrassing problems, The club is still not over that episode and there is no way that I would wish to be faced with sorting it out a second time around.
“The club overall is vastly improved and has the most long-term, ambitious plan of any cline in the country and is not the club which Sir Tom disposed of over six years ago.”
The board would like to thank every individual supporter, sponsor, authority and media for their strong support for the club during its term of office.
No immediate response to the board’s statement was forthcoming – Cowie was on a cruise and couldn’t be contacted. Murray was demanding £2m for his shares, his fellow shareholders asking for £600,000 and a stipulation that the purchase price must include the £10m Cowie said needed to be spent on players – meaning the asking price was effectively £12.6m.
And, while Murray publicly stated he was just waiting for the cheque to be paid into the club, all it meant, in reality, was that the club was in turmoil once more, and rendered impotent while the wait for a resolution dragged on.
Some learn from the mistakes of the past...