Season End Reviews: (9) the Lars Word on turning points, Big Sam and the way forward

Lars touching base

There are reports our would-be owner is in a meeting with the EFL today, and that our change of ownership will be confirmed shortly (in respect of which here’s the latest club statement). Until it is we won’t know what will happen, although we all know what we want – in a word, success. No doubt there will be lots of ideas on how that will be achieved and we have one of them today.

Here’s Lars Knutsen  with an end of season review which reflects on the past before giving his ideas on how we’ll achieve that success:

he wouldn’t agree with the Stacat

As Sunderland fans now know all too well,

the horror, disbelief and suffering that was our 2016-17 season in the English Premiership League was extended in a shocking way pretty well throughout our first Championship season for 11 years, and another feared relegation took place.

This reminded me of a similar trauma that took place 31 years ago, when a certain Lawrie McMenemy, seen as a miracle worker at Southampton, drove the club down to the then Third Division, leaving before a stunning two-leg relegation play-off loss to those Kent giants, Gillingham.  On the excellent site, his Achievements in First Class Competitions are listed as: None; more of that below.

The highlight of my Thursday evening has been watching the EFL League Two play-off semi-final between Exeter City and last season’s high achievers in the F.A. Cup, Lincoln City, and thinking about some of the truly grotty grounds we will be visiting next season.

For me, the important turning points for SAFC over the past year have been as follows:

  • A misguided and failed effort by Ellis Short to sell the club in the early summer of 2017
  • Not having a new manager in place at that time
  • Bringing in the otherwise well thought of Simon Grayson from Preston almost as a panic measure with little time to prepare for 2017-18
  • Sanctioning another clear-out, but leaving the core of the team: goalie ? centre back ? central midfield ? prolific striker – exposed with aging, young or uncommitted players
  • Not providing the financial resources for new manager Chris Coleman to bring in quality in the winter transfer window
  • Leaving our talented and promising manager in limbo with a wall of silence to guess what the club owner is thinking, before being ruthlessly disposed of by the prospective new owner

Why do the regular clear-outs at our beloved club always seem to fail?

I have previously elaborated in these pages about the terrible mistakes made at the club under Short’s leadership, the constant revolving door of both managers and players, how short-term, bullying American corporate thinking has affected the way our beloved Sunderland AFC is run.

strangely missed

Having worked in the Biotech/ Pharma industry in the USA I know only too well from personal experience that the hire and fire culture is not a solution, but a symptom of poor and cowardly management.  Short fired perfectly decent, well respected managers such as Martin O’Neill and Steve Bruce, and even though the latter cashed in on Jordan Henderson and Simon Mignolet, these were experienced men who could even have taken the club down a division and brought us back up the next season, following e.g. the current Burnley or Watford model.  I strangely even miss Gus Poyet who was definitely a passionate guy, capable of inspiring the team to some amazing performances.

Back though to the 1980s trauma of the then Division Three,

the first time the club had slipped to that tier; bearing in mind that Sunderland had been in Division One from its acceptance into the fledgling league, until 1958, and was once known as the Bank of England club.  I remember seeing a late season Division 2 game in 1987 at Fratton Park, when an East Boldon compatriot Dave Carroll and yours truly travelled to the game. Mc.Menemy had brought in a group of older players, euphemistically called experienced, such as George Burley, Frank Gray, Keith Bertschin and Eric Gates, but the defeat was embarrassing.  It turned out to be part of an 8-game winless run that was a big factor in taking us down.

We lost 3-1 and could both see the writing on the wall already, and McMenemy, better known as a media pundit, was accused of not being at the club often enough.  The team had lost its way and even bringing in club legend Bob Stokoe late on to try to shore things up failed.

would that we had him now

The next season the club chairman brought in the famous Stoke City hard man Denis Smith as manager. He signed the now legendary goalscorer Marco Gabbiadini and the rest is history.  We won the Division Three Championship by 9 points in 1988, scoring 92 goals and climbed into the top league again in 1990 after losing to Swindon in the play-offs, being promoted because of the Wiltshire club’s corruption issues.

When will we finally stop being a “yo-yo” side?

Do 10 years count as a decent run in the Premiership? There is a danger now that we could slip into tedious mediocrity where even being, for example, like Ipswich Town, who have had the longest current run in the Championship and seem to have lost their ambition as a football club, seems attractive.

In summary then we, as supporters, will want more than that. 

We know that 40000 plus will pack the Stadium of Light if there is even a modicum of success, and as paying fans we demand more than mediocrity.  We need confidence that the prospective new owner as well as visionary, driven and capable Board plus Club Management, on and off the field, can align with the fans’ passion and deliver on a vision of success.

My vote would be for Big Sam back as manager, with Kevin Phillips as his assistant; the latter as a longer term bet to return the club to the top division.
Click the image to return to the Salut! Sunderland home page
Acknowledgements: Sam Allardyce via Facebook, Kevin Phillips courtesy of A Love Supreme. Home page graphic by Jake. If there is any copyright claim, not answered by ‘fair use’ exemptions, on the  images used to illustrate this report, please make us aware and we will add credits or remove as requested.



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