After the humiliating if inevitable confirmation of another relegation, we all start to clutch at straws, says Monsieur Salut. My straws today have been Nick Donaldson’s fascinating mix of gloat, as a Mag, and sympathy, as a decent man with plenty of Mackem mates, and now Mick Goulding‘s superb contribution to our annual End of Season Reviews series. It requires no more build-up; just read on and see whether you’d quarrel with my assessment of this analysis from a man who’s put in a mighty shift as a Sunderland supporter …
When we were deservedly relegated last spring, after a season as miserable as David Moyes’s miserable face, I was under no illusions as to how bad we really were.
Nevertheless, in my worst nightmares I never dreamed that we were bad enough to go straight through the floor of this awful division.
And it is awful. Despite years of hearing how tough the Championship is, and how hard it is to get out of (particularly from Mag mates trying to beef up their promotion credentials), I have to strongly disagree. This is a very poor division, full of very poor teams – any of whom could beat any other in any given week.
The number of upsets, with supposed “top” teams losing to teams in the lower reaches, was incredible. The only constants in this division, throughout the whole season, were the poor quality of refereeing, and the rubbish performances of Sunderland.
It started on a very sour note for me, with the adoption of that hideous shirt. The worst shirt we’ve ever worn since the 19th century – even worse than the candy-striped aberration from the 80s – led to us already being ridiculed by friends and enemies alike, before we’d even kicked a ball. The references to Bullseye (“This is what you could have won!” etc) came thick and fast, from our friends to the north. The fact that they had themselves been lumbered with that awful Greenall-sponsored shirt, with different width stripes, which led to us calling them The Barcodes, couldn't deflect the embarrassment I felt. This was our own club doing this to us! Who makes these decisions, I wonder, and are they among the ones now being made redundant
All the same, we had a new manager in Simon Grayson, about whom I had no real opinion, other than that his Championship experience might give us the start we needed in unfamiliar surroundings; so I was prepared to sign up (literally and spiritually) to the new adventure.
Within 10 minutes of the pre-season friendly against Celtic Reserves, the enormity of our task, and our unpreparedness to face it, became abundantly clear. As Steele gave goals away for fun (“is that our new goalkeeper?”), the likes of Galloway got roasted (“has he come from Everton?”),and our two new strikers literally fought over who would take – and miss – our first penalty; the omens were bad, and I realised that this would be a long hard season.
As I left the ground after 60 mins, with us 4-0 down, deciding I had better ways to spend a sunny summer afternoon, I set the tone for what was to become a new, but regular, occurrence for me.
I’ve been a loyal supporter – going to games regularly since 1962, hardly missing any since the 80s, and being a season-ticket holder for every year we’ve been at the SoL.
I’ve always stayed to the end of games, and have never, ever, booed the team on or off the pitch. But when you’re watching absolute dross, from players who look like they can’t or won’t produce the required effort, I’ve started to respond in kind. If they can’t be bothered, why should I? So while fans of certain other clubs protest by organising marches and boycotts, smashing up their own town centres and punching police horses, I and hundreds (if not thousands) of other Sunderland fans react to abject performances and spirit-sapping defeats by quietly leaving early and going for a stress-reducing drink.
When you’re away at Cardiff and staying over to make a weekend of it, and you’re 4-0 down with 20 minutes to play, does it really matter if you give the rest of the game a miss? Even if it does, this is what Sunderland has reduced me to.
For home games, I’m intelligent enough to understand that it doesn’t help, and may be counter-productive. But at the age of 65 I’ve started to realise that I need to think about myself more.
We’ve all seen how the season has gone. Grayson was replaced by Coleman, who came with a newly acquired “messiah” status, bestowed on him by the supporters of Wales – with whom he’d worked near-miracles. But did it make a difference? It did not. Nothing changed. And I mean nothing. Coleman has had pretty much a free pass, because of the shambles that preceded him, and the pathetic “support” he’s had from the owner – monetary and every other kind.
But it’s started to wear thin now. Even without funds to change the players, we could have expected some kind of change in motivation or application. But there’s been none. Lots of chopping and changing, and little in the way of tactical nous has been on offer. For every brief sign of improvement – the odd good performance, even the odd away win – there's been a corresponding reversion to the previous poor form, pathetic capitulation and the unbelievably charitable giving away of soft goals.
Incredibly, the one player that Coleman did bring in specifically to improve things has actually made them worse! Having spent months vacillating between Ruiter and Steele as to who qualifies as the worst goalkeeper in Sunderland history; Coleman brought in Camp, saying that his big personality would give the dressing room a lift.
Well, he must tell really good jokes or do impressions or something, because on the pitch all he’s done is achieve the impossible feat of outdoing both of the others in hysterical ineptitude.
Outside of the Wales job, Coleman's record in club management isn't that great. A couple of decent years at Fulham before being sacked, a poor time at Coventry before being sacked, and two spells abroad at Real Sociedad and AEL (Greece), where he resigned from both after only a few months – significantly citing clashes with the owners.
Still, he’s still the best we could hope to have in our situation so it will be interesting to see if he stays. His sometimes tortuous and inarticulate press conferences, where he struggles to find the words for the bizarre predicament he’s in, don’t fill me with any confidence about what might be happening at the club. Certainly we need a new regime (which includes seeing the back of Bain, as well as Short), and some new money to be injected into the playing squad. That will be the time to really judge Coleman – if it gets that far.
This is absolutely the worst Sunderland team I’ve ever seen in 56 years. Even the 15-point season, when we also had no money to spend, had the excuse that we were in the Premier League, playing good teams. Like everybody else, I want to see more youngsters given a chance next season – otherwise the academy is a complete waste of time and money, and the people running it should all be sacked as well. As for the rest of the so-called experienced, senior players – I can honestly say that I wouldn’t care if I never saw any of the useless tossers ever again!
In other news, I’ve renewed my season ticket. It’s my hobby, and what I do on a Saturday but, as I keep telling my wife: “Don’t think I’m enjoying myself out there!”
It’s just something that has to be done. And, when Short, Bain, Coleman et al are long gone, we the supporters will still be here. In that sense, no matter who owns it, it’s our club – not theirs.