In conversation with Charlie Methven: (2) and England’s most football-obsessed city is …



Salut! Sunderland writers posed the questions and Charlie Methven, our chairman Stewart Donald’s right-hand man, answered then.

In the first round, our star writer Pete Sixsmith – teacher, 50+ years a supporter and as knowledgeable about football as they come – dealt with perceptions and realism. His questions can be summarised in this way: it’s all very well having a good, encouraging start for the new regime, with bags of enthusiasm among the fans, but what if things go wrong?

Let the questioner and the questioned take up the story. All items in this series will republished at this link:

Pete Sixsmith then (not so long ago) … he’s a lot trimmer now

Pete Sixsmith: if this season proves to be another ‘difficult’ one, ie no realistic promotion challenge, early exit from all cups, do you think you will be able to sustain the impetus that you have brought to the club?

Charlie Methven: let’s be honest: no! We’ve had a helluva lot of impetus thus far.

That is partly because the club hasn’t lost a game since we came in, but also – I hope – because people can see that generally we are getting more things right than wrong and our hearts are in the right place.

If the club fails to mount a promotion challenge this season then – given that we will have the highest budget in the league – things will have gone a bit wrong, and under those circumstances we would have to work hard to recover impetus and momentum. Work hard we would, but results would need to turnaround to fully regain impetus.

That said, I hope that fans recognise that it is a formidable challenge on the playing front. When we came in, there was no manager, a £25 million playing wage bill when the club is going to be restricted to a budget of £12 million or so by the rules,and a significant majority of players wanting to leave the club. Hardly the ideal place from which to plot a promotion charge – most of our rivals next season will have been planning their 18/19 squads from March this year, and will already have had a good core of players used to working alongside each other.

So it’s a really tough jigsaw to solve, but sport is sport and it’s not meant to be easy!

Pete: as some owners have found, being mates with the fans is fine until things go wrong. Are you both prepared for the vitriol that may come from some if we do not win the league by 100 points, win all three cups and solve the problem of Brexit?

Charlie: In a word – yes, we are prepared for criticism.

We are football fans, and have been on both sides of the fence, so don’t have that problem empathising that most football club directors seem to have. I think that we have a bit of ambition to try to civilise debate a little bit.

In years gone by, the club has treated the fans with scant respect and been shown little respect in return. We hope that by pro-actively including supporters in their own club, a majority of them will be able to show a little respect in return, even if they are criticising us.

Pete: this is a big club with a high profile in a geographically contained area. Are you prepared for life in the goldfish bowl that is North East football?

Charlie: possibly; possibly not. It has been quite an eye-opener being up in Sunderland for much of the last two or three months.

I had visited as an away fan, and seen what a big deal SAFC is to its supporters, but until you are up here on a more full-time basis you don’t really get it. I’m pretty certain that there isn’t a city in England that is as obsessed with its football club as Sunderland. I suspect that it’s only once we get into the season proper that we’ll find out what life in the goldfish bowl is really like!

To be continued ….

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6 thoughts on “In conversation with Charlie Methven: (2) and England’s most football-obsessed city is …”

  1. I love Betjeman, and having worked in Hanley (Stoke) and Wolverhampton for the last 10 years would prefer the prospect of bombs being dropped on them.

    I’ve got to disagree with the “proper football town” comments though Pete; Stoke and Wolverhampton fans are barely visible at either of my workplaces, both of which comprise about 250 souls. I have met one Wolves fan and 2 Stokees out of 500!

  2. Agree on progress, but they’re hamstrung on monthly expenditure. The view in the game is that cheap Scottish recruits won’t cut it in League One. Steve Gibson has tried this with Strachan and it failed miserably, although admittedly in the Championship……….
    In the end, I suppose my issue is that they’ve got the club without putting any significant funds in, while guaranteeing Short 40 million of the clubs money. Great for Short, possibly OK for them, but creates a significant chance that we’ll go down again. As I say, Colin. let’s see. Really hoping that I’m wrong.

  3. Interested to read the interviews with Charlie Methven. I appreciate your optimism. Everything that I know suggests that they have reached a poor deal with Short, didn’t realise the scale of the operational costs and have no funds to stabilise us. I can see no chance of competitiveness in League One. Hope I’m wrong. Let’s see when these new signings take the field.

    • Not really my optimism, more recognition that they are broadly getting some things right. Getting shot of Rodwell for less than one sixth of what he’d have taken from us in his remaining year was good business by any standards. There are huge inherited problems (eg the outrageous 5-year contract given to 29yo, injury-ridden Catts by, yep, the woman who is now his agent and how to get the best out of deals to move on Khazri, Kone, Ndong and others). But the Ross signings have the right feel for where we are now even if I detect no Gates, Gabbiadini or MacPhail among them. I’m just allowing Charlie his say while pointing out what progress seems to have been made. But yes, it could all go wrong and I’m sure the new owner knows that as well as any of us.

  4. I suppose there are lots of places that are “football obsessed” when the local team is doing well. As we speak, the retirement homes and coffee shops of Bournemouth will be humming with the chatter of who the Cherries are about to sign after the World Cup is over. I suspect that they weren’t as keen a few years ago when Blyth Spartans knocked them out of the FA Cup.
    Burnley is a proper football town as are Stoke and Wolverhampton. What they have in common with Sunderland is a long history and a steep period of decline, football and economy wise. It hurts to say it, but Newcastle is probably the most football-centric major city in England.
    Places that should not be allowed to have football teams include Barnet, Forest Green, Watford, Reading and Crawley – all dreadful places who make me think of John Betjeman’s lines about Slough.

  5. I’m not convinced some other places aren’t as football besotted. That’s all people talk about here in Liverpool, and if you visit Burnley it won’t take long before you find out how much promotion and staying up meant.

    Anyone else care to add a place or two?

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