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Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final

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A journey into cryptoland, where a Sunderland takeover is welcome as long as we mind our manners

On Sunday, the odd world where random folk from around the world discuss their token investments was invaded by Sunderland fans who united, Trafalgar Square style, to say #NoTFTatSAFC.

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

On Sunday afternoon, as many of us were enjoying some family time on Father’s Day or were out for a walk in the summer sunshine, along came the crypto bros with a reissue of their original statement on their bid for Sunderland and - weirdly - an apology for not having said anything for a couple of weeks.

No questions were answered, no points raised in our podcasts or articles were addressed, and none of the widespread concerns of the Sunderland fanbase were placated. And all the while, the bottom fell even further out of the crypto market - poor souls across the planet (who are being urged by the shills to ride out the current bear market) seeing more of their money going down the pan in the process.

My Bitcoin wallet, worth £27.08 in November 2021, is now down at £7.43.

No, all we got was a strangely tone-deaf rerelease of the same words hastily posted on The Fans Together’s website after the news broke via The Athletic and Sky Sports that Donald and Methven had accepted this mysterious group’s bid for a chunk of the shares in Sunderland AFC two weeks ago.

Like a bad comedian whose stinker of a joke is booed by the whole audience but instead of giving up or changing his schtick, he runs off stage only to reappear, say sorry, and go on to repeat the same tripe once again - just a bit louder.

The response from Sunderland supporters on Twitter was a vociferous and blunt “go forth and multiply”, expressed through effective and efficient use of good old-fashioned Anglosaxonisms. It was wonderful to see.

And then, like the hoards migrating from Covent Garden to Trafalgar Square the evening before a Wembley final, Sunderland well and truly took over the TFT Discord server - singing our simple message of f-off with one unified voice.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

This “server” is a forum designed as a discussion space for those who have bought into the TFT “vision” of NFT-mediated fan ownership (which does not really constitute fan ownership in any way, shape, or form). I had been resisting going in there myself over the last few weeks, but curiosity got the better of me when some of our readers’ bizarre interactions on the TFT chat channel made their way back onto mainstream SAFC Twitter.

I entered the room as myself, fully disclosing my identity as a Roker Report editor in my profile, and found the takeover well and truly underway. A stream of messages from Lads fans telling them where to get off, one or two gleefully obsessed Mags (of course), a racist troll, and some bewildered natives of that space who clearly had no idea that tens of thousands of Sunderland supporters would converge in their little space to shout and scream about a football club.

One message on the general section of the TFT discord channel posted by one of the natives was pretty explicit about the fact that TFT’s interest was basically about making money out of us for the privilege of taking part in “fan engagement”:

What do you expect? You want everything for free? Don’t want to pay a ticket price> A free beer? Of course companies and clubs need to make money. It gives way more opportunities when you get the money in the form of selling nft to fans. As a fan or buyer, you don’t buy it because it’s such a beautiful picture, but because the nft is coming with a right. The right to access (ticket, membership), to merchandise or to what no.

I posted a few links to our articles, tweets, and podcasts and had the admin bot popped up to block some of my links as “inappropriate”. I had a few quiet minutes so I thought, why not enter a conversation with one of these folks - maybe they can give me more of an idea about why on earth anyone would get themselves involved in what is, to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of football, simply a terrible idea.

So I messaged someone with the Discord role of “Founder”, which, I was quickly and mockingly made aware, shouldn't be mistaken for an actual founder of TFT (of course not, because nothing is meant to be as it seems with these people). But despite the sarcastic ROFLs, I persisted and eventually started to get somewhere:

Bro if you have all your fans united, why not buy the NFT and take control over the DAO with majority.... they are not that expencive [sic] eve, easily worth the time you guys are spending rantin on social :-)

NFT And Cryptocurrencies Photo Illustrations Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

But, Bro, that would mean putting money in the pockets of the people behind TFT and “Founders” of the Decentralised Autonomous Organisation like you who’ve already bought into the idea, so Bro, I’ll pass on this.

This is actually a really serious point, by the way. This person I was talking to is right in essence, we could all buy TFT’s Founder tokens and get control of their DAO and kill off this move by Simon Mycock/Wentworth. But I plead with you, dear reader, do not fall into this trap.

I am aware that some of the wackier elements of the Sunderland fanbase actually sought out and spent actual money on cans of the Rich Energy sugar-water when the unreliable witness was attempting to piggyback on our club to raise his profile back in 2020 (and of course, he’s back as you might have noticed, attracted to the club like a fly to raw meat left carelessly exposed on a warm windowsill).

He probably made a few hundred quid from it which, going by his track record in business, would represent a massive increase in revenue on what he was doing before he turned up in the city centre in a red and white shirt.

Crypto - you see - lives off the buzz, hype, and free publicity of online communities. The people behind a controversial Michael Owen NFT sale admitted as such on a BBC podcast a couple of weeks ago - there’s no such thing as bad coverage for these charlatans.

Owen was contacted by the Advertising Standards Authority earlier this month about a claim he made on a Twitter Space promoting the NFT collection about him having received guarantees fans not being able to lose money on the audio clips of the former England striker narrating his best goals (riveting stuff, I know). He deleted the misleading tweet.

Under questioning, Andy Green, one of the founders of blockchain tech firm Oceidon that sits behind the collection, said the quiet bit out loud:

We actually think that it helped the situation. PR is PR, it doesn't matter in our eyes. Even bad PR or negative PR reaction, it’s getting visibility.

As it turns out, Owen was actually talking about a very specific function of the platform that is selling his NFT memorabilia that allows Owen to set a price below which his digital tat cannot be sold.

That doesn’t guarantee nobody will lose money, it doesn’t guarantee anyone will want to buy it from a third party. But it sounds great, and they basically hope that people won’t see the follow-up.

This is their playbook. They have special knowledge, trust them. This is the future, follow them. Adopt early, buy low sell high, and you’ll get rich. If you don’t agree or find fault, you simply don’t understand. Just ask us techy people the questions and you’ll see, but we won’t really answer them and if we do the answer will be so dry, caveated, and technical that the vast majority of people will switch off before they understand.

HONG KONG-CRYPTOCURRENCY-ECONOMY-GCOX-MICHAEL OWEN Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

A bit like fake news and disinformation, if only 1% of Sunderland fans take this seriously or are even curious enough to buy in - even out of curiosity - that will raise demand for their tokens and allow them to cash out at a higher price than they bought in. It preys on the desperate and gullible.

That’s why I completely understand those who don’t want us to even talk about this bid, but it is a cautionary tale and one that - given the malign influence that these NFT merchants have within football right now - we feel is important to tell.

Conscious of these facts, I asked the person I’d engaged on Discord if they thought they’d make money from the TFT tokens they have invested in:

only future can show that... also nft’s are re-tradable.. so some1 else can buy it if they find it close to what they whish [sic], for me it just nft mate :-)

My interlocutor then urged me and other Sunderland fans just to be nice, and proceed to give the game away. The token owners, or “Founders”, the people who supposedly have influence within the DAO - have no real power or control.

you need to re-focus your energy to something useful, if you so pashione [sic] by the topic and do some study who you through try to get to debat [sic] or discord with... and free hint, start it politely, no-one would want to talk with ragein peeps... why would they... would you? So stop ranting then you might actually get some responses from the peeps actually running the show and know more about it.

It’s not these poor token holders who are driving this bid for Sunderland AFC, it is “the peeps who are actually running the show”. This is not, never has been, and never will be a democratic fan ownership model - it is a ruse to get foolish people across the globe to part with their hard-earned fiat currency in exchange for virtual magic beans and the opportunity to pay to decide on the colour of our third kit.

I left the conversation there and left the Discord server too. Despite the fun of the “Sunderland takeover” of a Sunday afternoon, it was and is a complete and utter waste of time.

What they probably didn’t know is that I have contacted TFT directly, and politely, through Twitter. They have my email address but so far are unwilling to divulge more due to “legal restrictions”.

As I have said publicly on the Roker Rapport podcast, I won’t give them a platform unless they are prepared to tell fans exactly who is funding their share purchase, because it’s certainly not the “Founders” of their DAO. I do not expect a response, which is fair enough, I guess.

We’ve just about exhausted every avenue open to us to find out more about who on earth is funding this proposed partial takeover of the club. That’s the end of the story. No more oxygen or effort will be expended here until there’s some solid progression to the story.

As Davey wrote the other week, it’s now down to the EFL to do their job properly and send Mycock/Wentworth and Bob Robinson on their merry way. But with the takeovers of Derby and Birmingham to deal with, they’re not going to be in any rush to sort out this mess.

Bradford Park Avenue v Bradford City - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Let's be crystal clear here, Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven could end this tomorrow by pulling away from this ridiculous deal.

I suspect very firmly that they know that the whole “fan ownership” stuff from TFT is bunkum and that TFT is unlikely to have either the money or the legal vehicle in the UK to complete a deal.

But after the Storey story was taken seriously by both local news, people on the Sunderland forums, and in the vlogosphere, they probably thought it would have created more division in the fanbase rather than becoming a point of unity, and make KLD step in to resolve the situation.

As Davey Browne has argued on Roker Report, and as I said when speaking with Tom White, the former Madrox Partners have totally abdicated their responsibility and (totally unsurprisingly) gone back on their word about only selling their shares in Sunderland to responsible owners.

Disgracefully, they are allowing our club to be used as a hype tool by crypto weirdos trying to make a fast buck on the backs of ordinary Sunderland fans, creating anxiety amongst an already tired and traumatised community, and impacting the stability of the club during a critical transfer window.

To what end, we can only speculate - the machinations and motivations of rich men are beyond my realm of expertise - but my best guess is that a pound sign and some zeros might be involved. They think, let us not forget, that we are incredibly uneducated when it comes to business.

Emerging from behind the smoke and mirrors and honouring their word would, of course, be the decent thing for Donald and Methven to do. But don’t hold your breath.


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