Sunderland…. it’s a tough place to play

Ah…. Sunderland it’s a tough place to play. We’ve all heard it before, the myth, the legend. The absolute load of rubbish. It’s always rolled out by a player who got found out by the crowd, or the lazy pundit who has seen a few highlights from their comfy seat in the studio.

I want to go on record to say its probably one of the easiest places to play. We just ask for 100 per cent in every game they play. We don’t ask for anymore. If the quality isn’t there, that’s not their problem. It’s that of the recruitment team that brought them in.

Look at the recent games at the Stadium of Light. The fans have seen a side that has a game plan, adding fantastic work rate and we’ve really bought into that. We’ve fed off each other. It’s great to have that feeling of togetherness. The fans are frustrated that we’re in League One, but we know we can help the team achieve our end of season target of promotion.

Whilst I’m having a mini rant. I also give you ‘expectations’. The fans have high expectations. If you call not being happy playing our football in the third tier of English football, than yes we’ve got high expectations. It’s quite laughable really, isn’t it?

When you’re at a big football club like ours, there will be a certain amount of pressure that comes with it. Any player would surely relish this and look forward to the challenge and adulation that success brings. I attended a talk in with Peter Reid and Kevin Phillips late last year. They said to play for Sunderland you need ‘big bollocks’. I agree wholeheartedly, however this only involves giving 100 per cent, showing for the ball, getting stuck in and not hiding away when things aren’t going to plan.

So Jack Rodwell doesn’t find it an easy place to play, because he has a heart the size of a pea and he was found out in no time at all. Someone like Lee Camp doesn’t find it an easy place to play here because even when you watched him in the warm up, he never looked prepared to give everything he had, even though it was obvious he wasn’t good enough to wear the shirt.

Take a look at some of the players the fans have taken to their hearts over the years I’ve been a Sunderland supporter. John Kay, Kevin Ball, Lee Cattermole and Luke O’Nien, to name but a few. They have differing levels of ability, but ‘big bollocks’ as Reid and Phillips so aptly described it.

So please don’t give me the hard place to play narrative. They’ve got high expectations up there sob story. Get your head down, work hard and engage with the area. You’ll become a legend at this club simply by adding quality to what we ask as minimum requirements.

Short term pain. Long term gain.

I don’t currently know what to think, it’s a strange time for us Sunderland fans. I want us to win every game we play, however I’m aware that a win buys the manager more time in the job. I can’t see the owner spending money in the transfer window and perhaps that’s a good thing. I like things straightforward. You have a committed and financially strong owner in place. There’s a manager who has the backing of the players and fans, then you can move on together with the common target of promotion.

That’s not the case currently at our club.

It seems that we may have to accept another season in League One. Stewart Donald is trying to find a buyer, but how long is that going to take. I always felt that the finances were not in place to do what is necessary during the January transfer window. The for sale sign at the club gives the current owner less of an inclination to provide any funds. Some may point to the departure of De Bock and imminent exit of McGeady as allowing potential for some incomings in this window.

I’m not sure if any money will be spent. I think we will need to make do with loans and potential free signings, where clubs may allow a player to be released early, when coming to the end of their contract in the summer. With the previous record of our current recruitment team, it’s going to be a lot to ask to make a minimum three or four successful signings, from the market we’ll be shopping in.

I think the short term pain of another season in this league may be what is required to enable time for a new owner to come into the club and assess the situation we find ourselves in. There must be a long term plan put in place when this happens. We can’t afford to stumble from one poor short term decision to another. In my humble opinion, when a new owner is in place, they need to speak to a person who knows the club and what it takes to be successful at Sunderland.

The first name that comes to mind for me, would be Kevin Ball. There are a number of other people who would also be adept in this area. The new owner could then look to bring in a manager who would galvanise the players and the fans to believe that we can get out of this league, and ultimately stabilise the club in the Premier League, in the long term.

I read from some fans that the manager’s job at Sunderland is not at all desirable and that we as fans are somehow demanding and have high expectations. I think most football fans would agree that believing we shouldn’t be playing our football in League One, is fair enough indeed. We expect 100% effort from our players in every game, but for me we also need to improve the quality of the squad in certain areas, to see us move up into the Championship.

So in short, this season may possibly end up in mid table obscurity, which is utterly unacceptable for this football club. However, if Donald could find a buyer in that time, with the right resources, it may possibly be a price worth paying.

Stewart Donald: Salesman or Messiah?

What has Stewart Donald done?

Stewart Donald
Stewart Donald, SAFC owner.

This is a question I’ve been asked many times. So a small background on me; I was born in Sunderland and I am a lifelong lads fan… however I live in Portsmouth so have to deal with Pompey fans on a daily basis. As they aren’t privy/interested in Sunderland news I frequently get asked why I dislike Stewart Donald.

Ultimately, I don’t dislike Stewart Donald as a person. I’ve always found him to be very approachable and have enjoyed chats with him over a beer in many a pub garden. The part of Stewart Donald I dislike is the business acumen.

That business acumen Stewart Donald has is very astute and smart. However, it isn’t what I think we need or desire. The fans demand someone who gets the club. Someone who understands what it’s like to have been in the quagmire one week and the top of the world the next. Someone personable, participative, passionate and well permanent. All of those qualities were shown by Stewart Donald. And then in the famous words of Billy Ocean, “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. We stopped hearing from him, we felt like a mum who’d forgotten to send a birthday card. Understandably, the twitter debacle was within reason. But if you’re going to give access all areas on twitter it’s to be expected that 1 or 2 morons may do something silly and for that, on behalf of most Sunderland fans I apologise. The words said aren’t reflective of anyone I know.

Charlie Methven
Charlie Methven

Now let’s be realistic for one moment, while I was trying to think of what has changed, I mean REALLY changed I rattled my brain for half a day. Finally it hit me! Stewart Donald bought some new red seats, not only that he also invited us down to fit them. This brings me back to the astuteness of the man, I’m sure Champagne Charlie has something to do with this absolute genius PR move though. The fans rebuilt the seats! We’re re-connected. That was all it took Ellis. You should’ve just changed the seats and we’d have loved you again. I do concede I’m probably being a tad unfair here because he has also had a pint with some fans up and down the country. But seriously apart from that, what has he done?

“He’s streamlined the club and made us more profitable” I hear you cry. Has he though? Or has he made multiple people redundant to try and balance the already balanced books? Has he stripped the club of its biggest outgoings, to increase his own incomings? If he has made us more profitable why did we need to borrow £10 million from the FPP lads for the PA system and a lift? Maybe I’m looking into it with biased eyes but this doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t sound like a club that is profiting from anything! I think it’s also worth noting Stewart’s net worth has risen £20 million in the short time he has been with us.

During The Donald years more has gone wrong than gone well. For instance, the Checkatrade Trophy. Don’t lie, we all secretly wanted to win it, even if it was just a “Mickey Mouse Cup”. For the Southern Supporters in the South Branch, we didn’t just WANT to win, we NEEDED to win. Living in the south, with pompey fans daily reminders of how rubbish we must be if they’d beat us. Even though we can’t directly attribute this loss to Stewart Donald, it was at this game that fans started noticing something awry within the camp. Reports of Charlie and Stewart not talking, reports that Juan didn’t want to sit near either, reports that Charlie wasn’t even coming to the game! Of course, a lot is paper talk and I understand but it gave a small insight into the club.

Josh Maja
Josh Maja

Failure to gain promotion is something I highly blame not Jack Ross, not the squad, but Stewart Donald (and the rest of the board) for. When it became clear that Josh Maja wasn’t sticking around, we should’ve acted fast and got a replacement in. A decent replacement would’ve seen us promoted, a more speculative and ambitious replacement would’ve seen us promoted… we ended up with Will Grigg who’s fire has been extinguished under Sunderland’s tutelage, a certain Mr Grigg who wasn’t even wanted by the manager. We needed promotion, Stewart knew that, Charlie knew that, the fans knew it! But somehow it all fell to pieces. From January onwards we looked troubled in front of goal. We looked like an Italian early 90’s team. We would try our hardest to score, once we did we knew we wouldn’t get another so did our damnedest to defend that 1 goal cushion. This tactic inevitably ended with us drawing 9 games 1-1 from January to April alone!

I’m sure we’ve all heard what a debacle that transfer window was and Stewart Donald’s refusal to allow the new series of the Netflix documentary be aired until the January transfer window was wiped from the camera reels. I get it, it was their first big window. Their first time to do something meaningful, I believe where it went wrong was a podcast that Mr Donald did not long after taking charge. He said “the piss-taking party is over”. Yet, in that same podcast he also said “we have a huge league one budget, one that would beat half the championship teams”. Any club, player or agent listening to that had just rubbed their hands together, the piss taking party could continue as Sunderland have said they have money.

I actually bumped into a well known goal scoring talismans agent during a charity football match and got talking to him about Sunderland, his player was due to come to us in that January window. He was one the MANY strikers we tried for, the rumour we had been told was this particular player asked to double their wages to join Sunderland. Professionally or unprofessionally he showed me evidence to the contrary. He asked for £5,000 a week more, £260,000 a year. A small fee to pay for someone currently tearing the championship to pieces. He was told we simply did not have those funds available and alas the lad didn’t sign.

Jack Ross
Started with a bang and went out with a whimper

My final gripe, is the sacking of Jack Ross and the subsequent hiring of Phil Parkinson. As a squad we had stagnated, we weren’t picking up the results the fans demanded. As painful as it was for some, Jack had to leave. What we didn’t know was, we had no money to replace him. Had we known that I think it may have changed a few minds, nonetheless Phil Parkinson come in. The only man silly enough to take the poison chalice of the Sunderland managers job. This is a man who knows how to earn league one promotion having done so with Colchester United and Bolton. I’d guess there’s many a Sunderland fan out there who’ll also remember a certain League One Bradford side beating us in the 2015 FA cup 5th round to reach the Quarter Finals.

This is and was, on paper, a fairly decent snap signing. It wasn’t inspiring, but it was promising. Yet, he seems to have the players doing everything completely the opposite way of Jack Ross. Instead of being methodical in the build up and tight at the back. We became headless chickens unable to work for each other and only for ourselves. This saw us reach our worst times as a football club. We shouldn’t keep changing managers, I agree. My counter question is this, what is it you want from Sunderland Mr Donald? Maximise profits? You’re a businessman, I understand it. Well if that is the answer you need to speculate to accumulate! You need to put something in to make us that attractive proposition that saw you want to take over this great club!

The North-East fans of football have a higher demand of satisfaction, we aren’t happy with mediocrity. We want near-on perfection and when you have Sunderland fans on board you get 100% of our heart, when you lose just 1% of that it doesn’t take very long for the other 99% to follow

Hark Now Here, The Sunderland Sing

A new year, time to reminisce. I went to my first Sunderland game in the early 80s. I was 3 years old. It was a 7pm reserve match and I was taken home at half-time as we lived a quarter of a mile from Roker Park and my Dad went back and watched the second half. I’ve no more information that that. No idea of opposition, time of year, or the result.

Those things were not important. The key was at 3 years old my Dad had made me a Sunderland fan. I was forced to go to Church as a kid but when given the choice sacked it off and became an atheist. With SAFC that luxury is not there no matter how hard you try. And I’ve tried. Even moving to London did not help due to the infamous London Branch – I even ended up playing sports I’d hardly played before (cricket) as well as ending up with a season ticket. Moving countries makes it worse. SAFC reels you back in during the good times and the bad.  

Fast forward 37 years. As we were in the 80s we’re back in the third division. As in the 90s we are protesting about the Chairman. And as every decade, perhaps since time immemorial, we’re calling for the managers head. The names change (Cowie out, Murray out, Donald out) but the issues remain largely the same: exquisitely inept footballing decisions made by people with limited financial clout and seemingly a only a modicum of footballing nouse. 

Cowie recruited ‘McManyMoney’ as he was known in our house and great SAFC historians have poured over those days. Suffice to say it’s almost universally accepted that he was the wrong man, at the wrong club, at the wrong time – great appointment aside from that. Murray was a more complex figure. A faux ‘vote’ to claim a mandate for leaving Roker Park. If you disagreed with leaving Roker you cast a  vote. If you did nothing you were counted as being pro the move.

Obviously history has looked kindly on Murray and his vision of a decent stadium, expanding the fan base, and doing so within the financial means of the club now appears a masterstroke. Murray was many things but you could never accuse him of wanting to be liked. He saw the value of Netflix before Netflix was invented by inviting the cameras in to film Premier Passions. The first disaster documentary about our wonderful football club.  

Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven. No insurance policy against not either gaining promotion or flipping the club quickly. Piss-takingly bad PR and party to our lowest league position in our history. Fan engagement goes along way in the north-east. They followed the Fat Mike blueprint of pints with fans and as far as I am aware did not quite go the whole hog with replica shirts in the away end. Methven did wear some rank red trousers at times mind.

These guys were populists without the bus. The antithesis of Murray and whilst Short was prone to turning up at the odd branch social he was not publicly on social media nor did he feel the need to massage his own ego. His recruitment of footballing management personal was as if he was a US billionaire with no clue about football.

Anyway, back to the Oxford pair who took a punt on SAFC. The pair (Sartori largely anonymous these days) undertook a gargantuan task and being an exile I’ve witnessed this from afar aside from a handful of glamour ties such as Wimbledon and Gillingham away and Accrington Stanley at home to name but a few last term.

People follow great leaders although do not always agree with them or even like them. People like the fun boss who says yes to everything but don’t respect them. The PR party visibly stopped after two Wembley defeats – Methven even made some comments (rightly or wrongly) about the atmosphere in the stadium in the play-off final v Charlton. I was not there. One Wembley defeat proved enough for me – on top of the previous 3 I had attended. I was too young to go in 1985 and watched with my Nana and Grandad in Grindon.

Methven had just about got away with calling fans parasites months earlier. He’d end up walking away when his Thatcher-loving veneer fell away and his garbled messages became nonsensical, the pressure of financial scrutiny became too much, and Donald ducked Twitter. Public relations were now at an all-time low. They’d made their pod and would need to lie in it. And lie they did claimed some. As we go to Fleetwood today, you wonder did we as fans want to believe their stories of 100 points. “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies” anyone? Interestingly on the valuation Wikipedia cites Sartori as saying 3 million for 20%. If Peter Jones were grilling our owners on Dragons Den the basic maths of our current rumoured valuation would not be hard to destroy. 18 months ago Sartori bought into a venture that was valued at 15 million.  

The Jack Ross sacking was to appease a minority of fans and Donald made his gravest mistake to date in my opinion. First up, I believed from afar it was time for Ross to go. However, as fans we are not privy to the day-to-day goings on. If Donald believed that Ross could do the job he should have a) backed him properly in the summer and b) given him the January window. He showed himself to be man who wanted to be liked and not a leader. My caveat to Ross going was a leader coming in who could unite the fanbase. Parkinson has managed the latter, sadly. 

The Doncaster result gave everyone a lift and no fans I know are taking any crumbs of comfort from that performance. The traveling fans enjoyed the win and that was it. Nobody feels a corner has been turned and we are suddenly on the march up the third tier of English football. Class atmosphere though by all accounts.

Donald has gone into mute mode since leaving Twitter and has not publicly responded to the campaign led by fanzines and backed by a big number from the fanbase. The BBC reported he’d sell up with a “heavy heart” which everyone will have an opinion about. Was Donald the saviour or just a salesman? Did Sunderland AFC get under his skin? He certainly made time for fans. Cynics say they were PR stunts. I’d like to think he meant well and enjoyed some of his time in the north-east.  

Where do we go from here? That’s something for another blog. Time will tell. Safe to predict that the wheel will come full circle and we’ll be back in the top flight some day. I just don’t know how and I don’t know when…and until that day we suffer the ignominy of Fleetwood Town away on January 1st 2020. Hark now here, The Sunderland sing…  

It’s a New Day, a New Dawn and We’re Feeling Good

While there are nerves in taking over a well established SAFC fans site, there is a huge pressure to not only maintain the standard but also add to the 6k+ posts that have been created by Colin and his team over the past 13 years.

Why the acquisition?

Colin had posted back in November that the site was to disappear, with so much content created and the countless; probably thousands of hours in creating that content i just couldn’t let that happen, so i made Colin an offer and with a promise to preserve the content untouched. When i did dig into the site i found a lot of technical issues that has taken me a few days to fix, not easy fixes and some i found challenging. Out of the other side of that is the new theme you see now and a reconfiguration of the backend of the site.

What’s the Plan?

You may have already noticed the new addition of the SAFC stats subdomain, we’re planning to build that out to a lot more than is currently there to include where data is available: cup games, manager stats, player stats and a lot more. While there is already an amazing stats site in the The StatCat we’re approaching it from a slightly different angle.

The New Authors

While the outgoing owner, editor and authors will continue to have access to the site we’ve brought in a new team;

All passionate SAFC fans. If you too want to contribute by all means drop me a DM on twitter.

As more of the techy geek in the background my posts will be few and far between, i’ll be building out new features for the site and concentrating on optimising what already exists to bring the Salut! Sunderland archives to new readers as well as pushing the newly created content.

Thank You

As a closing note I want to say a personal thank you to Colin for giving me the opportunity to take care of everything he and his team created, i know it’s a wrench to let something you’ve been dedicated to go, it’s in good hands mate.

Salut! Sunderland bows out, SAFC.blog breezes in

Colin Randall, as once captured by the star cartoonist Matt and enhanced by Jake

On January 16 2007, Salut! Sunderland drew its first breath, writes Monsieur Salut, aka Colin Randall.

Almost 13 years later, today is the last day of the site in its present form as I relinquish ownership and editorship.

The metamorphosis into safc.blog is well advanced. Although it technically replaces Salut! Sunderland from tomorrow, it is already accessible as a “clone” of this site.

Read moreSalut! Sunderland bows out, SAFC.blog breezes in

Malcolm Dawson: the final view from the West Stand

 

Colin Randall writes: Malcolm Dawson has been my trusted deputy editor throughout the best years of Salut! Sunderland. He explains below how we came together for site duty and I am deeply grateful that Joan, his sister, suggested he’d be an ideal right hand man. Malcolm is a demanding editor,  demanding of himself and of others.  He is as fussy as I can be on questions of grammar and taste. And he also happens to write like a dream, as anyone who has seen his reports from games, and his more general thoughts, can testify.

It  has been a privilege to work with him and, sadly only occasionally because of geographical distance, enjoy his company before, at or after matches. Thanks, Malcolm, The site could not be in such good order to hand on to new ownership and editorship without all you have done …

 

It will soon be a quarter of a century since Bob Murray’s vision for the future of SAFC took the club from Roker Park to the Stadium of Light. My sister was living in London at the time and involved in the editing of the London Branch’s newsletter 5/5/73 which was later to be renamed Wear Down South. It was through that involvement that she met Colin Randall and his mate Pete Sixsmith and was asked by Colin to help with his new website when it was up and running some years later.

Read moreMalcolm Dawson: the final view from the West Stand

McCormick’s Craic: 2020 beckons and a star of Salut! Sunderland bids farewell

Colin Randall writes: 

John McCormick’s contributions to Salut! Sunderland have been immense, as writer and editor. Despite the serious health issues that have confronted him, he has continued in his tireless way to post articles and research and write his own exemplary work, often analytical and backed by meticulous statistical date, all presented with far more technological nous than I can muster. He has been a great mainstay of this site and deserves the rest he has now prescribed for himself.

John McCormick introduces his own farewell:  regular readers will know I was told I had a malignant tumour in December last year and was given a scan to see if I had secondaries just before Christmas 2018. That scan revealed a lesion on my liver but couldn’t determine whether it was malign or not. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I received final confirmation that it wasn’t, which closed a sequence of tests – all clear – and ensured that this Christmas would be merrier, and this New Year happier, than the last.

Read moreMcCormick’s Craic: 2020 beckons and a star of Salut! Sunderland bids farewell

Salut! Sunderland’s farewells: Jake the illustrator on Monty, Toddo and doing his bit

The man himself
Colin Randall writes: I always worried about images for this site. Without access to professional databases, without – mostly – the nerve to grab photographs from elsewhere unless we had permission or a good excuse –  the arrival of Jake was manna from heaven. For eight or nine of our 13 years, Jake – John Clark, a solid Sunderland lad exiled in Spain – has supplied a . wonderful stream of illustrations to preview a match,  or record  its result, or often enough just to capture a moment, a mood. Salut! Sunderland has been greatly enriched by his presence and I cannot find truly adequate words to express my admiration and appreciation.
Now – though not for the first time as he reminded me this morning (see this) – John/Jake finds words of his own that are not just the witty captions to his own images and banners and those priceless comments he’d sometimes post…

Read moreSalut! Sunderland’s farewells: Jake the illustrator on Monty, Toddo and doing his bit

Sixer’s Sevens: Doncaster 1 Sunderland 2, and Gooch is back

A couple of days from now things will be different and Pete Sixsmith will not be a feature of these pages. But that’s for the future and he’s here today.

Actually, he’s in Doncaster, from where he sent a number of texts keeping us up to date on the progress of our team, including the seven words below, which arrived shortly after the final whistle.

And don’t you wish you had been there with him?

Read moreSixer’s Sevens: Doncaster 1 Sunderland 2, and Gooch is back