Charlie Methven’s Oxford Who are You?: (2) rebuilding Sunderland from ‘utter shambles’

Charlie and fellow-Oxford fans at that Wembley 2010 playoff final, OUFC winning 3-1 against York City to return to the Football League

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!


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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:

** Red socks, pinstripes and fighting the bosses. An irreverent introduction to the Charlie Sunderland fans are getting to know

*** In conversation with Charlie: (1) ‘Let’s all roll up our sleeves’

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

**** In conversation with Charlie: (3) missing out on promotion would be a failure

Click the banner and you land at Salut! Sunderland’s home page

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

12 thoughts on “Charlie Methven’s Oxford Who are You?: (2) rebuilding Sunderland from ‘utter shambles’”

  1. Tom. Great reply and I hope you’re right. I also believe in the three guys but have this little niggle in the back of my mind that they might be just treating us as an investment.
    If we get to the Premier again they will stand to make a fortune!
    That said I guess we wouldn’t begrudge them anything if we get there lol.

    • At a meeting I was at Charlie Methven said that as business people of course they would be prepared to listen to offers and that while Stewart is not short of a bob or two neither does he have the resources of Ellis Short, so if and when the club progresses additional finance will be needed. This is why they approached Juan Sartori.

      However, he also said that supporters could easily turn against them as they did with Bob Murray. But he said they are in it for the medium term or longer and their initial aim was to turn the club around, give it back to the community and create an ethos where players and coaching staff buy into the club.

      We are seeing that and though we are a long way from being the finished article it is this bigger picture that people like our friend Brian fail to grasp. On the whole my policy is to ignore his rants as I can’t really work out what points he is trying to make.

      On the one hand he seems to be saying that Short was a good owner because he threw loads of money into the club, irrespective of the fact his ownership was driving the club out of existence. Then he criticises the manager and players with a few well worn insults which leaves me wondering what he thought of Moyes, Grayson and the overpaid, overrated shower who only achieved successive relegations.

      Stewart and Charlie have been quite open in the fact that they are Oxford United fans but that while they are in charge of our club, they will not lose sight of the fact it is our club. Compare that to Short and Ashley.

  2. Missed a crucial fact, I was walking with Sixer and Charlie hailed him. I played a very minor supporting role of little consequence.

  3. We have our club back. The team is on its way. Get the culture right and build from that – on solid ground. I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie while walking round the SoL to the Walsall cup game. Surreal on two levels – never imagined I would walk to the game with an Old Etonian & that an Old Etonian would be such a nice, grounded friendly chap. I have no doubt at all about the genuineness of the 3 amigos and hope they are not remotely phased by the total bollocks expressed in the first reply. It says more about him than anyone else. But, he has the right to his opinion, even if it is shite. And I have the right to consider it shite.

  4. I’ll call you out Brian [see first reply above]. What are your SAFC credentials to spout such uninformed claptrap about the new owners, who you facetiously label ‘the 3 amigos’?

    Only someone with an axe to grind or one of that large band of deluded, trouble spouting Magpies who seem more obsessed with how Sunderland are getting on than with their own shower of mediocrity, could verbalise their feelings in such an obviously biased way.

    In my opinion, and I don’t think I am alone, people like Margaret Byrne, David Moyes and Martin Bain turned Sunderland into an absolute basket case of a football club due to gross mismanagement, and fans lost not only their hope but their pride and dignity. Moyes achieved the impossible by emulating MackemEnemy as the worst manager in the clubs history with his arrogant, defeatist, morale-sapping “I don’t really want to be here, I’m too good for this place” attitude. Bain was an unmitigated disaster and it’s not the first football club he has fouled up at, despite his gorgeous selection of Netflix-highlighted Rolex watches suggesting he’s a successful person [just google ‘Martin Bain-Glasgow Rangers-controversy’]. They had predecessors in failure but these characters accelerated the demise of SAFC in a manner no one anticipated.
    The new regime of Donald, Methven and Sartori, particularly Stewart and Charlie, have worked tirelessly to reconnect the fans with the club on so many levels-they have treated the fan base with respect as being football supporters themselves, they understand that we should be perceived as more than turnstile fodder and deserve to be respected and listened to. Their attitude has been refreshing as Sunderland supporters have never felt more isolated and depressed than they did after relegation last season and something needed to be done to get them back on side and believing again. The club seemed dead on its feet.
    Because of years of disappointments, cynicism still reigns in many quarters, almost understandably so, but let’s all at least give our new owners a chance as to date they have been a breath of fresh air, epitomised by improved fan relationships, the managing of the finances, and the excellent aesthetic transformation of the SoL appearance due to the club and fans working in unison on replacing the faded seats which seemed to reflect our horrendous downfall.
    Jack Ross is proving an inspired appointment by them too, an eloquent, clear thinking, unflustered success to date. Yes, the football has often been laboured but there are reasons behind that. The bottom line is that only two league games have been lost, we’ve just had a good January transfer window and our destiny is in our own hands. Did you know Ross was the only manger Sunderland interviewed who said that failing to get promotion first time around would be classed as a big disappointment in his eyes? That is telling. He was also far more interested in SAFC developing their own talent via the academy than other candidates. Brian states above that the players he inherited are still our best players. Brian, I give you SAFC’s leading Player of The Season to date, Jon McLaughlin, signed by who?
    As I say only time will tell but to Brian’s ‘3 amigos’ I’d say well done on everything you’ve done and achieved so far.

  5. Welcome back Brian. As it is a SAFC website I will put something a little (!) more positive. We haven’t achieved anything in terms of promotion yet under the new ownership but only a fool would fail to see the complete transformation in terms of player attitude, club attitude towards fans and the feel good factor of the local population. If only the three amigos could get four more to join them – they could become “The Magnificent Seven”

  6. @Brian

    I’m bored so I’ll bite.

    GK different

    Defence is different

    Midfield still has McGeady, honeyman and cattermole but Gooch, power, O9, maguire, Leadbitter, Morgan, mcgeouch etc are all new regulars to the 1st team match squad

    Forwards are also compleatly different

    So wtf are you talking about?

  7. The 3 amigos spout and it reminds me of these self help books.
    Start off saying how bad things are, then saying there is hope. Hppe comes in their solution.
    ‘Utter shambles’….what a crock.
    The players ross inherited still remain thr best .
    Grigg and leadbitter havent got half a dozen or more games yet to start hailing them as magicians etc. The rest of the riss recruits have been very ordinary.
    As I keep reminding folk methven and donald have put precious little of their own money into our club.
    If we get promoted the squad will be woefully inadequate in the c’ship. Ross is clearly not up to using his coaching to bring the best out of what we have.
    ‘Oh but at where we were when they arrived.’
    Stevie wonder could see through this charade

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