Monsieur Salut writes: in just over two weeks, only Sunderland’s second season as far down as the third tier kicks off with the televised home game against Charlton Athletic. The striker we wanted but they signed, Lyle Taylor, expects a hostile reception but says he’ll cope and simply concentrate on trying to inflict an opening-day defeat on us. Intriguingly, he volunteered a reason for his reluctance to join SAFC in an interview linked here:’Certain things happened. I’m not at liberty to go into the finer details, but certain things were done and said and at the end of the day, that told me enough’.
Here, Pete Lyons, a freelance writer with our club’s interests at heart, reflects on Sunderland’s decline and the prospects for fighting back… I have italicised song titles I recognise but others, and notably Wrinkly Pete, may spot more and I have added a French singer, Jain, as a new contender …
Okay, so Sunderland have surely fallen as low as it’s possible to go for a club of this stature and with the fan base it has.
But there is a mood of optimism and the feeling that things can only get better (how many song titles?). A new owner and a new manager will hopefully instil a new sense of spirit into the club.
Where Did We Go Wrong?
It seems like only yesterday that we finished at the dizzy heights of 17th in the Premier League to escape relegation and be able to fight in another top flight season. We were breathing a sigh of relief, and just maybe wearing a little smirk, as we watched Newcastle, along with Villa and Norwich, take the drop into the Championship.
But how things can change, as the following season Newcastle went straight back up as champions, while we passed like ships in the night in the other direction having been firmly rooted to the bottom of the Premier League.
It just goes to show that you should never mock another’s misfortune [we do, they do and it will continue for ever – Ed]. How much would we relish the chance to take on Newcastle in the Wear-Tyne derby now. But we’re dancing to a different Toon now (see what I did there?) and it’s a tradition that we’ve been deprived of because of our current circumstances.
However, we’d bounce back and go all out for promotion into the top flight where we belong…wouldn’t we? We’d have the parachute payment to invest and restore confidence. Just like Schwarzenegger, we’d be back! So, what happened last season? We went down faster than a Wearside ship’s anchor!
A season where we had almost as many managers as we did wins. A season where five points from three games was considered a good run. A season of which the highlight was beating Wolves 3-0 in the last match when they were already champions and we were heading for League One. A season at the end of which we would be accompanied in the drop by the esteemed Barnsley and Burton Albion, although we were even four points short of their tallies.
A nice little cup run would have boosted morale and given us something to cheer about. League cup wins against Bury and Carlisle gave us hope and took us to the third round. But The Toffees weren’t going to do us any favours at Goodison Park and a 3-0 defeat sent us home with tails between our legs. In the FA Cup we fell at the first hurdle, losing 2-0 to Boro. So much for hope!
Where Do We Go From Here?
We’ve been here before of course and it will take more than a little setback like this to dampen our spirits. The last time we dropped into the third tier we were promoted the following season. A couple of seasons later, a stroke of good fortune came our way when we gained promotion back to the old first division despite losing the playoff to Swindon. Because of “financial irregularities” Swindon were penalised and Sunderland promoted ahead of them. What was I saying about another’s misfortune?
So, can we rebuild this time and, to use a hackneyed phrase, rise phoenix-like from the ashes of the Ellis Short era? Short has said that he’s left the club “financially strong and debt free” to give the new owners, led by Stewart Donald, the best chance to turn things around and return Sunderland to its rightful place as a Premier League team.
So, who is Stewart Donald? A lifelong Oxford United supporter, he has invested money in his home team (how will he feel when we meet them in League One?). He also owned Eastleigh FC for six years, during which time he invested millions helping them to gain promotion and improve their stadium. He has had to sell Eastleigh in order to take over at Sunderland. But he has left them free of debt and the supporters are sad to see him go, which is a good sign.
Donald doesn’t have the same financial clout as Ellis Short, but he has the passion for football that Sunderland needs. And, with a consortium of investors behind him, he has a “carefully thought-through plan” for restructuring the club. He has admitted to having made mistakes at Eastleigh, but he has learned from them.
He knows that you can’t just buy your way to promotion. But with sensible investment and wise activity in the transfer market you can build the foundations for long-term advancement. It won’t be easy to attract top players to League One football, but the size of Sunderland, the Stadium of Light, a huge fan base and burning ambition to succeed will certainly help.
Looking in the Future
What have we got to look forward to in the short term? On the positive side, we get some lovely days out at the seaside! Blackpool, Southend-on-Sea and Plymouth; people save up all year to go on holiday to those places. We’ll see some quaint little football grounds like Accrington Stanley, AFC Wimbledon and Fleetwood Town. And, from the point of view of some smaller clubs, they get to play in one of the best stadiums in the country.
All the signs are there for our recovery. Whether we can get straight back to the Championship remains to be seen. Keeping players fit and healthy, so that they avoid suffering a personal injury on the field is going to be essential too. But the new owner and manager are hungry for the challenge ahead and willing to invest in the future of a great club.
Being a Sunderland supporter is never going to be easy but, in the words of the song – Nothing Can Stop Us Now!