It’s never boring being a Sunderland fan. I guess that old adage can be applied to most clubs, but we do have a certain knack of turning molehills into mountains at our dear old club.
Let’s boil this down to basics. As football fans, we want our team to win everything. The league, the cups, European trophies, world club trophies. The lot. “My Sunderland team just won the Champions’ League on Football Manager” is something I see quite a lot on twitter.
So if progressing up the football pyramid was as easy as it is on Football Manager or at Fulchester Rovers, we’d all be happy as Larry.
But football doesn’t work that way. Money is not evenly distributed. Take the example of a player who started his career at non-league level who then becomes a Champions’ League winner — the club who uncovered the talent remains stuck in poverty and the club who bought him enjoys untold riches.
Throughout the decades, the erosion of distribution of monies has happened steadily. Once, away clubs received a percentage of gate receipts for league matches. Now the home clubs keep all the money, helping the rich get richer.
Some clubs attract more fans and are thus seen as better partners for businesses to associate with. The Manchester Uniteds of this world have more fans, attract more sponsorship and become wealthier as a result.
For a football club trying to make its way in the world today, there are two accepted methods. Shit or bust, a la Leeds United in the early 2000s under the disastrous leadership of Peter Ridsdale. Their team under the management of David O’Leary was a swashbuckling side which saw the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler and Mark Viduka team up with a freshly poached Michael Bridges from Sunderland’s just as exciting side under Peter Reid. At that time our club had made two successive seventh placed finishes in the Premier League and the club was in a great place to make a step up.
But then chairman, Bob Murray, was uncomfortable going down that road of spending more than you had in the vain hope that you’d recoup the money in prize money and extra revenue.
The team was slowly disbanded and we were relegated in 2003 with a pitifully low points total of 19 — a Premier League record at the time.
It’s quite a useful mirror to the situation we find ourselves in currently.
We find ourselves with many fans clamouring to spend millions on players to achieve Premier League status quickly. Against a club regime intent on doing it organically, by buying exciting young talent who are wasting away in huge pools of superclubs’ academies. Players like Patrick Roberts, Jack Clarke and Amad Diallo are examples of successes in this field. Similar to how Oakland Athletics reached baseball’s World Series playoffs in the early 2000s under the stewardship of Billy Beane. In 2002 and 2003, this with a player salary of $44 million, compared to the New York Yankees’ $125 million.
Brentford, Brighton and Southampton are regularly cited as doing it this way.
It’s all very well for clubs to follow this method in principle, but to say Sunderland is under scrutiny from its fans as to its approach is the understatement of the century.
Questions are being asked as to what has happened to the fees received for the sales of Ross Stewart, Lynden Gooch and Isaac Lihadji.
The current chairman has been less than clear as the to total percentage he held in the club when he first arrived.
It’s all very well keeping your cards close to your chest, but there needs to be some kind of transparency and connection with the fans.
The current head coach situation is just crazy. The club were right to dispense with Tony Mowbray when they did. He was floundering at the time and seemed to have run out of ideas. But to replace him with Michael Beale seems just inexplicable, with the common perception that the club only appointed him because it wouldn’t have to pay compensation to another club. They still have to pay Mowbray’s contract off though.
Beale has come in with confusing ideas, and there have been some ridiculous-sounding rumours doing the rounds on social media, but these kinds of rumours don’t spread when there is a happy camp.
Beale already seems hopelessly out of his depth. For a supposedly top coach he seems to have the tactical nous of a flea — particularly in that awful mismatch against the mags. Eddie Howe won the tactical battle hands down.
The club’s policy on not commenting on internal matters is good in principle, but to stay steadfastly silent makes it look like they don’t care.
I’m certainly not an ‘Original Gangster’ who will use any chance to criticise the club, but some transparency is required, because the club is in danger of going back to the dark days of Ellis Short not caring and allowing the club to rot into obscurity.