Salut! Sunderland was asking the questions. But Charlie Methven, Stewart Donald’s executive director and minority shareholder in the post-Ellis Short SAFC, had one for us: ‘How are we doing so far?’
Monsieur Salut, who worked with Charlie and has been delighted to renew an amicable acquaintance, gave the truthful response. On balance, a fine and encouraging start …
- appointing a manager who seems the right fit for the club, a man with the ability and character to bring the best out of a revamped squad
- managing to see the back of Jack Rodwell with a payoff that represents a fraction of what he would have cost the club had he seen out his contract
- making players and one key official feel Sunderland was the place they wanted to be – even if it meant taking a pay cut
- engaging with supporters and treating fanzines as important, not because their editors need or deserve to have their egos massaged but because they represent so many thousands of the club’s loyal followers
- working their socks off to get rid of people who don’t want to play for the club but have absurdly generous and undeserved contractual rights that somehow have to be resolved
- stimulating a genuinely optimistic wave of support, with 21,000+ season tickets sold, 23,000 the new target and 1,000 fans already met by Charlie
Charlie agreed to answer a series of questions posed by Salut! Sunderland writers. The resulting conversation will be published here in three parts following this introduction, so four in all starting today. The first instalment will appear shortly.
The conversation began with some general thoughts, not part of the Q+A segment, and Charlie had an interesting, even challenging message for Sunderland supporters:
‘All football clubs are special to their fans and no club is more special than another as a result. Humility is the bedrock of success – and we are determined that SAFC should be simultaneously proud (of its roots, its achievements and its community) and humble during our tenure.
‘Ignorance about other football clubs, in our view, isn’t a good quality. Real football outfits – Everton, Burnley, Boro etc – punch above their weight because they are respectful and up for competing on equal terms.
I’m working for Spurs at the moment and it is striking – but slightly frightening – that the Spurs fans and staff I spend time with are a lot more cognisant that Oxford United has won almost as many major trophies as they have in the last 30 years than are SAFC fans, whose club has won sod all in that time ….
The whole club has been very sick for a very long time. Board; management (playing and non playing); players; and, dare I say it, fans.
We will give the club so much love, empathy, support and – I hope – expertise. But there is a serious ‘wake up’ call to be delivered as well. The message is: if you want your club back, roll your sleeves up and come get it!
But don’t carry on with some delusional nonsense about deserving x y and z. The club I play for (Old Etonians) has won a fair bit. But we don’t imagine that the world owes us a living these days!
It’s a huge challenge. We are wrestling with all sorts of opponents on a daily basis. But we enjoy it. And are enjoying grafting hard. And hope and believe that with just a modicum of luck we will get it right…’