Salut! Sunderland’s end-of-season reviews: (6) Doors to the past close, another opens …

Jake : 'it can only get better. Can't it?'
Jake : ‘it can only get better. Can’t it?’

Ken Gambles is a regular contributor to Salut! Sunderland. He has endured worse than the season just gone, enough to enable him to pinpoint Sunderland’s varied failings but also to hope for a better future as the PDC broom sweeps clean(ish). This is Ken’s review of a season in which, as Gambles go (sorry, Ken!), keeping MoN would have been more rash than hiring Di Canio …

Yet one more disappointing season in what seemed to be an encapsulation of all it means to be a Sunderland supporter.

Has any so-called big club, or medium club for that matter, had such a lean time of it than us in the past 40 years? Season after season the excuses were there: not enough investment, Roker was too small, we needed a top-class manager, the youth system was poor etc etc.

Along with most fans, I thought when Martin O’Neill was appointed that everything was now in place. Having passed 60, I thought this might be my last chance to see Sunderland consistently among the best 10 teams in the land.

Sadly following toe-clenchingly awful performances at home to Swansea, Fulham and Norwich, relegation was a certainty. Or so it seemed.

The football was unimaginative,unexciting and predictable. I recall saying to a close friend that I wished I weren’t bothered and that it didn’t matter, but of course it did. The appointment of Paolo Di Canio wasn’t a gamble: not to have sacked O’Neill would have been.

Jake and the final analysis
Jake and the final analysis

* See the full series of 2013 End-of-season reviews at this link:

However, I want to look positively on what lies ahead rather than picking over the bones of a season we cannot change.Unlike Pete Sixsmith, with whom I am normally in complete agreement, I don’t believe this has been our worst season for I can immediately think of 1970, 1985, 1986, 2003 and 2006 as far worse. But we move on. Paolo is a one-off and it may all collapse spectacularly, but I’m thrilled by his enthusiasm and commitment, and as Louise Taylor of The Guardian puts it he “speaks a lot of good sense”.

He has a sharp sense of humour, too, and is not the complete ogre he’s made out to be. A win at the Mags, breaking the Everton hoodoo and keeping us up, even if somewhat undeservedly, is not a bad start.

His emphasis on fitness and self-discipline seems all too obviously required and at last one of our managers has admitted what most fans have seen for years: that other teams are not only more skilful, but bigger, fitter and containing athletes. Someone once pointed out that it is easier to turn an athlete into a footballer than it is to turn a footballer into an athlete.

Di Canio’s resolve to challenge the culture at the club is long overdue. No doubt the press, who appear to want him to fail, will relish any resulting conflict but modern day footballers remind me of secondary school pupils who are warned about breaking the rules yet, when punished, claim they are being picked on and treated unfairly.

... Jake suspects PDC may have overlooked a change in the law.
… Jake suspects PDC may have overlooked a change in the law.

The recent Bardsley incident reminds me of something a Sheffield Wednesday fan told me. He and some mates were in a club in London and Ashley Cole was there. One of the lads played keepie-uppie with an empty can and asked Ashley Cole if he could do that. His response was to take out a £50 note and set fire to it with the words “Can you do that?”. What is it about Premiership players and £50 notes? (But also, what is it about football fans in night clubs who relish the opportunity for a wind-up when they spot someone famous – ed?)

I’m looking forward to the close season and season 2013-2014. Of course it may end in tears but at the moment I feel optimistic (oh dear).

In Mignolet we have a keeper as good as any in the past 40 years and, if we do have to sell him, we should make a huge profit; Fletcher is a proven goalscorer even with a midfield as poor as our current one; Johnson has bought into the Di Canio philosophy as seemingly have N’Diaye, O’Shea, Sess and Colback. Ha’way!

With respect to Phil Manzarek of The Doors who died this week, these are strange days but it’s not the end, and I’m looking forward to the future.


 Ken Gambles: 'I remember when it was even worse - let's move on.'
Ken Gambles: ‘I remember when it was even worse – let’s move on.’

14 thoughts on “Salut! Sunderland’s end-of-season reviews: (6) Doors to the past close, another opens …”

  1. It’s good to see that some things never change… only that roughly 13 years ago the “Gambles rambles” used to take the form of double English on a Friday morning (tea and biscuits provided) piped in to impressionable young minds like hospital radio. The themes it seems are still the same, painful underachievement, false hope, useless tactics and players and fans who wished they didn’t care so much. I must say the fact that Crystal Palace will be playing in the Premier next season depresses me on so many levels.. even my “other team” FC Halifax Town’s promotion means a big move away from everything enjoyable about football. I want to watch football by slowly doing laps of the ground taking in views from all angles.. not standing next to seat that costs money I don’t want to spend to clubs who simply don’t need it. Sigh.

  2. The one thing we all can agree on is major surgery is needed to avoid next season being a relplica of this one. The first team squad is stretched like cling film as it is and with Di Canio seemingly ( and correctly ) determined to shift out the underachievers it will be at breaking point. The aforementioned spine seems to be worth keeping as most agree on here.Believe me anyone we manage to sell out of the also rans won’t fetch much in transfer fees ,so will Short back the manager again? I think he will for this season initially at least ,Di Canio is Shorts appointment alone, has kept us up and is attempting to drag our whole ethos into the 21 st century with Shorts approval .It may be nerve racking again but it’s going to be a roller coaster ride .

  3. It wouldn’t be so bad if the players strutting their arrogant stuff were tearing up the Premiership…..but Titus Bramble?? Rose could return to Spurs and Mig could be sold…..Lordy we’re In trouble if we think we have a defence next season. Catt could work with Alfie ….if not?? Bardsley sold for being indiscreet?? No…he has had a poor season. Graham?? Let’s be honest…he could set fire to Grannies if he’d scored half a dozen goals. We have a decent spine…..what else? Going to the cricket where a Man of the March earns a prize of £2500 for 5 days work?…….different world ….where did it all go wrong…then again…….

  4. “My reading of the situation is that under MON his impact for the first ten games was immense, then the old problems returned and we started to look like the same side under Bruce towards the end of his tenure, not suprising really as it was the same players.”

    That’s very true CSB. His immediate impact was largely down to the initial effectiveness and novelty value of McClean who took games by the scruff of the neck. It was short lives as was O’Neill’s success. The two go hand in hand to my mind.

  5. Whilst I agree that we need to clear out the deadwood
    PDC needs to remember that in our squad of 25 we need to have at least eight players who qualify under the homegrown rules. And it seems that most of our deadwood is of the ‘home grown’ variety

    If get rid of Bramble ,Kilgallon, Graham, Wickham, Brown Bardsley, Vaughan and Gardner ,all who qualify as homegrown ,who does that leave us with?

    Only ,Cattermole, Johnson,Larsson ,O’Shea,Colback.So unless Knott,Egan, Laing,Mandron are going to be offered contracts and included in the 25 man squad PDC is going to have to bring in some homegrown talent as well as some from abroad.

    Makes me think that Gardner,Wickham and Graham may well have to .stay

  6. My reading of the situation is that under MON his impact for the first ten games was immense, then the old problems returned and we started to look like the same side under Bruce towards the end of his tenure, not suprising really as it was the same players.

    PDC has inherited these same players and appears to be putting a marker down to say you failed Bruce, you failed MON but you will not fail me because if you can’t step up to the plate then you can ship out.

    This is what will probably happen in the summer, there may be a few suprises regarding departures but it is now self evident with the recent involvement of the PFA that there are problems in the dressing room, which were probably there for Bruce and MON as well.

    You can not allow that kind of atmosphere to remain, no players are bigger than the club and in reality you can not have players bigger than the manager, PDC seems intent in putting this right and for what its worth he has my full backing.

    And I am delighted to be still part of the Premier League as it will afford PDC to do the things with the Club that he and Mr Short quite clearly feel need to be done.

  7. I’m not sure why the results under MON became so poor, I thought he would take us upwards and onwards to around comfortable mid table. After a decent (kind of) start, we slipped into relegation form and were heading down The game against a Norwich side with only ten men made this a dead cert. It wasn’t as if we were playing reasonably well, but not having any luck, we were just rubbish. Giving MON more time was only going to have one outcome.

    Ellis took action to change this by replacing a manager whose only direction was the Championship. He could have chosen anyone and it wouldn’t have been any worse, so sacking MON was the right decision whatever the outcome.

    Let’s not forget that PDC pulled off two fabulous and completely unexpected wins against Newcastle and Everton, which normally would have elevated any manager to near the status of living legend. Without those 2 wins, we were down. If we couldn’t win against Norwich, we wouldn’t have gotten anything against a resurgent Villa, a recovering Stoke and a decent Southampton.

    Yes, the press can spin him to seem as mad as a bag of ferrets because he’s a) foreign and b) talks passionately and rapidly in an Italian accent, but read between the lines and he’s mainly talking a lot of sense.

    I’m sure we’d have gone down without PDC, so give him the benefit of the doubt for the future. We’ve some decent players, and it’s not always the side with the best players that wins, it can be the side with the best team.

    I’ll enjoy another Premiership season and stay hopeful.At least we’re still in it.

  8. You’re absolutlely right Ken. This is far from our worst season when you look back over the years. Far from it. What is the worst aspect of it is the fact that the disappointment is so great as the outcome can rarely if ever have been further from the hope and expectation that most of us felt at the start.

    I don’t totally subscribe to what I’ve just said but I think it possibly reflects the sentiments of many. They writing was on the wall from as early as Feb or March last year. Summer signings were mixed, as you say with some crazy (and expensive) short termism alongside expensive signings like Fletcher and Johnson. I do feel that Johnson realises that the future is mapped at this particular crossroads and we can expect much more from him come August.

    • good that jono buys into it.his performances under PDC improved,rid thee waste a believe in PDC

  9. I agree that we underperformed…no-one is questioning this. My concern is the vicious circle that results from self-fulfilling prophecies. We came 17th because over a season we deserved to do so.

    PDC is a risk. Retaining MON would have been a risk. There are no zero risk options. That said the negativity towards past managers seems to be disproportionate. Some seem set on rewriting history. This is the nature of social media.

    I apologise for the following one-eyed statement. I’ve always argued that Safc fans are more balanced than those up the road. They’re always about to win the league or challenge or the Champions League. They’re delusional. Why? It’s decades of irrational expectations. It’s not healthy. So the recent displays of masochistic fervour have not sat well with me. It leads to howling for the manager’s head. We’re now a club with a poor record of manager retention….Peter Reid was a long time ago. Players have the power…apart from clubs where the manager is more of a permanent feature. We need to reflect on this

    Finally, sorry if I bit picked one element from your piece which was a decent piece. Feeling thin skinned after a tricky season. Suspect I’m to the only one

    Don’t want to be a Pollyanna…then again I don’t want to be Eeyore

  10. You are right of course Neil but the ‘deserved to go down ‘ tag for me is in light of the consistently poor performances over the season and the fact that we failed to show any battling qualities (at least before Paolo.)

  11. Sorry but once again a post suggests we didn’t deserve to stay up thus implying that Wigan didn’t deserve to go down. Utter nonsense. Over 38 games Wigan accrued points to leave them in 18th place. They deserved to to down. Sorry if this upsets the aesthetes but in terms of relegation it’s substance over style. Plenty of cavaliers who were too good to go down…….went down. I like Wigan and particularly Martinez but football is a results business.

    The poor performances didn’t end when MON left…..Villa 2nd half was woeful beyond description. The PFA should reflect on whether their members broke the Trades Description Act before they wade into SAFC

    Time to end the self-flagellation. As you’ve identified we have a decent spine. Now we need quality in terms of aptitude AND attitude.

    • In 1976 or thereabouts a Villa fan did refer his club to the Trading Standards Agency, or whatever it was then, claiming they were describing themselves as a football club but not playing football. The agency declined to take action.

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