Sunderland, Adam Johnson and a sad but necessary exit for Margaret Byrne

Jake: 'let the Lads give us hope'
Another grim day for SAFC

Margaret Byrne has resigned as chief executive of Sunderland AFC in recognition of her flawed handling of the Adam Johnson affair.

When Johnson’s trial ended with a further conviction, on top of the Guilty pleas already entered, and with it the likelihood of a significant jail term, we reproduced SAFC’s statement and called it a “dignified response”. As far as it went, that was an accurate description. No one should be pre-judged; every accused person is entitled under our civilised procedures to the presumption of innocence until proved otherwise.

Unfortunately, the statement proved to be economical with the truth. The club would have been 100 per cent correct in leaving the fate of Johnson to the rule of law had it not been aware of the evidence against him that made Guilty please and/or conviction inevitable. It now seems to have been aware, and Ms Byrne – a former fellow-member of the SAFCSA London branch, I believe, and good company for travelling supporters on pre-season tours – has paid the price.


This is the club’s statement:

The board of Sunderland AFC has today accepted the resignation of Margaret Byrne. Margaret, in her role as CEO, was responsible for the running of the club. She was also accountable for the actions taken by the club in relation to Mr Johnson.

Sunderland AFC acknowledges that Margaret’s intentions have always been to act in the best interests of the club, however it has become clear through our own internal investigations that in this instance decisions have been taken by Margaret in error.

Whilst swift and decisive action was taken to terminate Mr Johnson’s employment upon his guilty plea, decisions taken prior to this, including the decision not to suspend him for a second time pending the outcome of the trial, were wrong.

In light of what has been acknowledged by Margaret as a serious error of judgment on her part, we have undertaken a full review of the club’s decision-making processes to ensure that there can be no such mistakes in the future.

Throughout this deeply regretful situation, we recognise that one devoted young fan and her family have been very badly let down, first and foremost by Mr Johnson and his despicable actions, but also by the club they support.

We are so very sorry for this. Mr Johnson lied to the club; he also lied to our fans and they have every right to feel aggrieved by this. Lessons have been learned and we hope that the club and its fans can move forward from this together.

M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake
M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake

16 thoughts on “Sunderland, Adam Johnson and a sad but necessary exit for Margaret Byrne”

  1. Just to be clear I’m in no way condoning his actions. Nor those of the club. Just struggling with the notion of his QC or the police passing incriminating evidence to his employer. Surely a QC who did this would not be acting in the interest of his client. Anyway as the Lovely Eggs would sing “people are tw@s” and in AJ’s case doubly so. Another thick footballer pampered beyond belief to the extent he has lost his moral compass.

  2. As one of the papers puts it–“protecting a £10m asset” which suggests good people can be subverted and a club can be stigmatised by the mamon which is the PL.

    Let’s wait and see whether MB’s misjudgement is serious enough to warrant action by the Law Society.

    • I get the feeling she was acting more like Johnson’s personal lawyer than CEO of Sunderland football club.She prided herself on giving legal advice to the players according to one paper I have read,she introduced Johnson to his QC and she was sent notes by that QC regarding Johnson’s confession to the police and text messages,then she claims she decided to keep it all quiet from the Board.

      Who was she representing here?I think she may have reverted to her legal training.She was looking after Johnson’s interests here like all lawyers tend to do,even when dealing with a guilty client.Except Johnson was not her client.

  3. Like Neil, I wonder how she can have been shown enough evidence to say for certain that Johnson was guilty. Since Johnson was claiming his innocence, and had his barrister with him, who was also advising him to plead innocent, was Byrne supposed to declare him guilty simply on the say-so of the police?

    Surely the employer is legally bound – by Employment Law – to assume their employee innocent until proven guilty. Otherwise, by unilaterally declaring him guilty, they’d prejudice the case against him and leave themselves open to further action by Johnson.

    The “best” they could have done would be to suspend him on full pay, but without playing him in the team.

    • But Byrne knew he had admitted meeting and kissing this girl,plus there was over 800 messages between them on record.Even the briefest of glimpses of such evidence was more than enough to sack someone.His not guilty pleas were nothing to do with the club nor was it stopping them acting in a responsible manner.They effectively gambled that he would get off with this and it would all go away.

      Even suspending him would have been something,but even then, having now seen the confession I am astounded and appalled he was allowed to stay, never mind play.

      I also would add Ellis Short is not out of the firing line here either.This smells of scapegoat to me,why she would keep such a serious matter from him I have no idea,I cannot accept that he did not know,nor the rest of the Board.Ellis has filled the club with inexperienced yes men/women,and this is exactly what happens when you do that.

    • There was enough evidence on his own admission to either sack him or to resume his suspension. His terms of employment are a totally other to the criminal proceedings.

  4. I have just read that SHE did not inform
    the board but that does not necessarily mean
    that the board was not informed by someone else.
    I cannot accept that Short was not kept abreast of
    developments. The alternative is that the club just
    did not take the whole matter seriously. It still sounds
    too vague and evasive.

  5. Dutch based Paul here. It was inevitable after the details of the May meeting were revealed. There is still the issue of others who must have been party to the decision not to reinstate Johnson’s suspension. I do not believe that she took this decision alone. It was a very bad call and more
    far reaching than more strictly technical football matters. The salary of 650.000 plus should attract someone decent.

  6. I don’t understand the police’s part in this either ,Neil. Surely they shouldn’t share evidence,which is not yet before a court, with the employer
    And as for ‘Guilty please’…no thank you.

  7. The club didn’t necessarily have to sack him but should certainly have, at very least, maintained his suspension. But if Margaret Byrne was in possession of evidence that Johnson had admitted sexual misconduct, that would absolutely be grounds for terminating his contract.
    Byrne, of course, was acting “in the best interests of the club…” working to keep SAFC in the Premiership, an appallingly cynical but effective move. I wonder if her (and other Sunderland executives’) motto is, “The end justifies the means.”
    What I’d like to see now are details of her severance settlement. I imagine they’re pretty generous. She betrayed all that is decent about the club, the least she should expect now are her 30 pieces of silver.

  8. I’ll be a NED if they wish. So sad for the family. They’ll get some closure when AJ is in jail.

    One thing I don’t understand is the sharing of evidence with an employer. How does that work? What if SAFC had sacked AJ then he was found not-guilty? Would they then be able to sue the Police? Would he be able to sue SAFC? I appreciate this is hypothetical and in no way want to defend some pretty poor decision making however it raises some issues.

    • Regardless of whether AJ was found guilty he had admitted kissing the girl to his QC and the police,That in itself was sufficient ground to sack him under employment law.

      In almost any other walk of life you would have been sacked on the spot had your boss found you filandering with a 15 year old associated with your workplace.Unfortunately those that run football clubs these days seem to think that their investments come before all else,even before normal decent moral standards.

      My understanding is that SAFC have now left themselves open to be sued by this girls family.

  9. Nativity– yes a renaissance for my club.

    I think it has a lot to answer for but some of the vitriol coming from the hacks in the 4th estate have been somewhat galling.

    Our good friend Luke Edwards suggests the club is guilty of wrongdoing –perhaps he better get the OED definition in front of him before he writes garbage like that again.

    Couldn’t agree more on getting a professional person in like Brian Marwood. Need a much bigger Board too with a few non exec to provide a sounding board.

  10. I am gobsmacked by your nativity here! Byrne is a previous criminal lawyer who has had the running of Sunderland football club for several years, years that have seen SAFC struggle. This person had the full running of SAFC for several years! She who suggested that Paolo Di Canio become SAFC’s manager! The person who employed Da Fanti, a director of football who to this day has still not been questioned for his actions of the transfer saga of Ji Dong-won and others. The protracted contract negotiations which led to a Court of Arbitration for Sport.intervening between SAFC and Inter Milan. I have said it once, but i will say it again “She employed Paolo Di Canio”!. And now this! The actions of Byrne have led the club to issue a statement stating that “Byrne was responsible for the running of the club. She was also accountable for the actions taken by the club in relation to Mr. Johnson.”
    I think this club, my club has needed a footballing mind/brain at Sunderland for a very long time now and now that Margaret Byrne has exited, Sunderland AFC may now be able to achieve this and become the sleeping giant that I wish to see in my lifetime. A sad but necessary exit, don’t make me laugh. Good riddance!

    • Yes, maybe. But leaving aside my nativity, as you have it, I don’t actually offer a word of support for Margaret Byrne. Sad = sad for the club and its support, since it is hardly edifying for us, and also for the executive who messed it up badly – and yes, messed up the PDC affair – but isn’t a bad person as a consequence. Oh, and try to remember while misinterpreting “sad” that I also said “necessary”.

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