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Sunderland v Luton Town: Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg

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Fan Letters: “Sunderland’s merchandising is nowhere near good enough!”

Thoughts on some of our off-field issues, a possible starting XI for next year, and Ross Stewart’s contractual situation are in the RR mailbox today! Got something to say? Email us!

Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Now that we’re in the close season, I thought I’d have a rant!

I’ve mentioned this several times on my tweets, in a sort of flippant fashion, but it’s actually no joke. I’m talking about the sales and promotion side of our club.

I’m writing to you as I may already be wrongly assuming that some officials at Sunderland are assigned the task of keeping their fingers on the supporters’ pulse, because they certainly don’t respond to direct emails!

If you go to the online shop, you’ll be given main options of ‘Gifts They’ll Love’ and ‘Winter Warmers’, both with a Christmas wrapping paper background, even though it’s almost June.

It’s appalling, and surely there must be some jobs on offer in this department? How embarrassing.

Linked to this is the poor amount of merchandise on offer and the lack of decent affordable sales, and shouldn’t it be time for the club to promote the new strip for 2023/2024?

Some clubs actually played in their new kits on the last game of the season to help with promoting sales. How come we always seem to be off the pace, and giving ourselves less time to sell products?

Time and again, we’re found wanting off the pitch, whether it’s the club shop, ticket sales and e-tickets, or the state of the stadium.

Is anyone out there listening or even bothered?

John Wilson

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, John. Thanks for getting in touch!

There’s no doubt that, despite all of the progress we’ve made on the pitch in recent times, there are other areas, like the ones you mentioned, in which we’re lagging behind and that simply aren’t at the standard we should expect them to be, and it’s right that we should ask for better.

Clearly, the club is still recovering from being cut to the bone during the League One years, and some greater investment into various departments is needed in order to bring them up to scratch.

I think this comes under the banner of ‘thinking like a big club once again’. It’s not just about what happens on the pitch; it’s about taking pride in the entire club and ensuring that the fan experience is as good as it can be.

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

Dear Roker Report,

First of all, may I thank Sunderland for reawakening an old man’s enjoyment of football?

After fifty years of following the red and white- the majority in a permanent state of dread- I looked forward to the matches last season, I was entertained by the ability of our players and for the most part, I was able to relax in a happy place at the weekend.

Now for next year.

Unfortunately, teams will be conscious of the result thuggish Luton achieved as well as ultimately reaching the Premier League, allied to the fact that most teams have had a taste of what we can produce, football-wise.

Therefore, defensive plans will be set out to stop us playing, and whilst we have to maintain the ability within the squad, we also need to build up the personnel to give us a plan B.

It’s inconceivable that injuries will play as big a part next season, and as part of a learning curve, the squad needs to be extended to provide cover.

Below is my take on who should start next season:

Patterson, Hume, Ballard; Batth, Cirkin, Roberts; Neil/Bellingham, Ekwah, Clarke; Stewart, New attacker (hopefully 6’2)


New goalkeeper (Thirty years old with one hundred appearances behind him), O’Nien, Gooch; Ba, Bennette, Anderson; Rigg.

Players to be released:

Bass, Wright, Dajaku; Pritchard, Matete.

John Collings

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, John. Thanks for your letter.

I fully agree that for next season, we need to be able to adapt our style of play when necessary, because that was one of the things that often hindered us last season.

Our go-to approach is very exciting to watch and it also led to some brilliant goals, but we need to be able to get a little more direct and physical if needed, particularly in tight games when the opposing team is set up to frustrate and stymie us.

Hopefully, the development of the likes of Pierre Ekwah should help us to develop the physical side of our game, and if we can establish that solid foundation, it should give our attackers the freedom to do what they do best: take the game to teams and play with creativity and dynamism.

Sunderland v Fulham: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

A few folks are getting ahead of themselves here.

Just because we achieved a high-scoring season without Ross Stewart, they think we can do it again, but I’m not so sure. Championship managers aren’t fools, and they’ll come up with a way to stop a team without a striker from scoring.

The other thing is that the club have already taken the option of extending his contract, so he’s our player for at least another season.

People are also assuming that it’s the player and not the club stalling on this contract. That may be so, but it could be that the club want to make sure he’s going to recover fully before offering him a long deal.

It’s also possible that other clubs are doing exactly the same and backing off bidding for Stewart until they see if he returns to full fitness. No club is so desperate for signings at the start of a season that they’d risk big money on an injured player.

Personally, I think the attitude of some calling for him to be transfer listed is appalling and could actually push him out of the club.

Bjorn Shigg

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Bjorn. Thanks for getting in touch!

The Ross Stewart situation is as intriguing as it’s often been frustrating. Everyone knows what he brings to the team, in both attack and defence, and there’s no doubt that we’re a stronger team whenever he’s on the pitch and that it would be ideal to keep him at the club for the future.

On the other hand, the way we adapted to his absence last season was very impressive and although we won’t have that element of surprise next season, it was encouraging to see the Lads step up and deliver. They’re big boots to fill, but his teammates certainly didn’t shy away from the responsibility.

What I hope is that there are contingency plans in place, if the worst comes to the worst and he does depart.

New strikers were needed this summer regardless, and perhaps the ongoing uncertainty over Stewart’s future might just give the club the impetus to sign some quality reinforcements with the long-term future in mind.

Sunderland v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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