Yesterday – check out this link – the first part of Salut! Sunderland‘s Who are You? interview with the Oxford-supporting Sunderland AFC executive officer Charlie Methven* brought us his thoughts on the ‘heart versus heart’ nature of torn-between-two-loves match between the two clubs.
In today’s second and concluding instalment, Charlie compares and contrasts Oxford United and Sunderland, guides us on the Jack Ross project for SAFC and appeals to our fans to show a little more business common sense than is always evident. It’s another great read but don’t expect a scoreline prediction …
Questions from Salut! Sunderland‘s Malcolm Dawson and Pete Sixsmith (the first both posed were similar enough for them to stand as one):
(Malcolm) … Given our history, even though we haven’t won a major trophy for coming up to half a century, most Sunderland supporters would argue we ought to be a Premier League club. How do Oxford United fans view their club and what ambitions would they realistically be looking to achieve? (Pete) … how do the expectations of supporters differ between Sunderland and Oxford United – or do they?
Charlie: since gaining Football League status in the early ‘60s, Oxford United was mostly a Championship team. A few years in League 1 at the back end of the 70s and a few years in the top flight in the mid 1980s.
For support base, cachment area, track record of bringing through young players the club belongs somewhere between top of League 1 and bottom half of the Championship – sort of like Preston or Barnsley or Luton.
However, the ghastly stadium situation, where the club is a tenant of its former owner (asset stripper Firoz Kassam), means that every season is fought with both hands tied behind the back.
So at the moment midtable in League 1 would be where most fans see the club. This season is underperformance…under Appleton a couple of years back, when we missed the playoffs by a point and beat Newcastle 3-0 in the 4th round of the Cup… that was probably over-performance.
The club has a big broad support base – it is truly Oxfordshire United, as most fans don’t come from Oxford itself – but many of them are occasional visitors. So the club can take 35,000 to Wembley for the Checkatrade final whilst for a mundane League 1 game getting a modest 7,000 or so. For a game like this Saturday, I imagine despite recent performances there will be more or less a full house of 12,000 in the three stands.
(Pete): Dean Whitehead and your son’s hero, Chris Maguire, are obvious links between the clubs. Any thoughts on them and others I may have overlooked? Many, many, many. Johnny Byrne, Andy Melville, Rush, Rogan, Martin Gray, Phil Gray, Gabbiadini (briefly on loan at OUFC), Denis Smith, Mal Crosby. A pretty happy list, in that most have gone on to do well for the club they’ve moved to. Then there is the artist formerly known as Samson the Cat, who I hired at Oxford to be commercial director and has been following me around ever since, including hitching a lift back up to Wearside in the boot of my car!
Thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city and region, Jack and his squad – after half a season on Wearside?
Had a lovely, lovely time and have already met people who I know will be friends for life.
It is such an underrated city and area. People elsewhere are gobsmacked when I show them pictures of Roker Beach, of Ashbrooke, of Cleadon, and of Sunniside. I have also found that North-easterners are generally dissimilar to Yorkshiremen and Lancastrians, in being more light-hearted, fun-loving etc – almost a bit of Irish about you… I can see why Niall Quinn fitted in so well.
As the exec director, I do sometimes wish that there was a bit more understanding of basic business principles amongst the fanbase – I know that it is similar at Newcastle… this sort of ‘f*** it, hoy cash all over everything and then stick your hands over your eyes and hope the club doesn’t go bust”.
It so nearly did go bust last year, and I do find it wearying having to explain, time after time after time, that we will not endanger the club again, however much the club’s fans might want us to. A classic email from one fan I know recently: “I know we need to balance our books but can’t we just go and out and spend £6 million on Grigg and Kieffer Moore and offer Josh Maja £20k a week. That would sort it!!”
But that is a very minor gripe and, as I say, common to other clubs in the North East. Overall, I have had a fantastic time and people have been very welcoming to me and my family.
In terms of where our current squad is, notwithstanding the changes in January, I suspect that it won’t be until this August that fans will get to see a proper Jack Ross squad.
Jack inherited an utter shambles and is doing very well to keep us competitive whilst overseeing such a massive transformation. I imagine another four or five will leave in the summer and four or five will come in.
Overall, I think that the players and coaching staff have done well…. But there is a long way to go. We have to remember that Barnsley came down with a lower end Championship squad more or less intact and we have matched them to date. Portsmouth and Luton have added players to winning League 2 sides. But last June we were in a right state and that is easily forgotten by fans.
* Charlie Methven and Salut! Sunderland. See also:
Hand on heart, where will the two clubs finish this season?
I cannot and will not predict Sunderland, but I think that OUFC has enough quality to win a few games and finish about 17th, not far off where they did last season.
Will diving and other forms of cheating ever be eliminated? And does it matter any more?
Yes it matters. It corrupts the game and makes it frustrating to watch. Gradually VAR will stamp it out, but it’ll take a while. As with dissent, which is a lot better now than 10 years ago, it’s all about the scrutiny and the punishment. Rugby players used to get away with disgusting cheating all the time, but as TV scrutiny and yellow and red cards have crept in more and more they’ve gradually had to clean up.
I take it you’ll be there. Score prediction?
I’ll be there, but won’t make a prediction. Before the Oxford game at home, I warned all red and white folk against complacency. Oxford have the ability, on their day, to score goals against any defence in this league.
Interview: Colin Randall