John McCormick writes: outside the clouds have rolled in and the rain is sheeting down. It’s a grey day. Inside only the heating system is keeping the cold out. Normally an e-mail from Pete Sixsmith would mean a post bringing cheer and warmth, good feeling and heartiness. So the one that arrived but a few minutes ago was more than welcome.
Alas, some times it’s better to travel than to arrive:
THE UNRELENTING GLOOM AND THE SAD DECLINE OF A ONCE PROUD FOOTBALL CLUB
Since Sam Allardyce left, I have had one really good day supporting Sunderland and that was a soaking wet Shrove Tuesday in Bristol this year where we won a semi final and a place at Wembley. I was with Sixsmith Minimus that evening and, although we got wet, we had a good night as we consumed fine ales in The Drapers Arms and The Kings Head pre and post match.
Not much for four seasons of spending money, sitting on a coach for hours on end and coming home from wherever I have been, be it the stadium, Birmingham, Liverpool, Ipswich or Lincoln, disappointed and, ultimately, reluctant to make those trips again.
After Allardyce took the England job, it all fell apart. He probably wouldn’t have stayed anyway as it quickly became clear that Ellis Short was desperate to get out of the money pit that was professional football in England. Managers like to spend money and Allardyce more than most; when it was clear that there was little available, the FA dug him out of a hole (which they later dumped him in and filled) and appointed him as England manager.
On paper, he was a good manager who had hit a rough patch. He had done well at Preston and became a legend at Everton, but the Manchester United job was way too much for him. I heard an interesting story about that recently on 5Live, where the excellent Mark Chapman said that when Moyes was at United, he got the players together and showed them a video of Steve Round and himself going through defensive drills at Everton so that United would know how to defend. The words « lead balloon” spring to mind…….
Anyway, he arrived and was serenaded at Rotherham’s impressive New York Stadium (don’t miss this one either this season or next- it’s a little gem) as we watched Charles N’Zogbia tuck away a late winner. Games in France followed, there was some optimism as we hoped that we could at least start the season well and build on what Allardyce had left behind.
Unfortunately for Moyes, Lamine Kone’s head was turned by Everton and their newly appointed recruitment team. They offered him more money, so we matched it. He looked at the two squads and decided that the Goodison one was stronger, so he demanded a move. We made him stay. He spent the next two years sulking and left for a fraction of what we would have got had we flogged him to the Toffees. Very similar to the Maja situation twelve months ago; would Maja have done the same or would he have knuckled down? We’ll never know…..
Moyes also took a dislike, for whatever reason, to Wahbi Khazri and didn’t play him. He brought in players he knew from Manchester United and had others imposed on him and his one year on Wearside was a disaster. The players were either not good enough or didn’t want to play for him. Some. Like Januzaj, appeared to be disinterested. Others, like Djilobodji and N’dong, were clearly out of their depth. The seasoned pros like O’Shea, Cattermole and Defoe tried to get things right, but so much was wrong that a management team of Guardiola, Klopp and the ghost of Hetton born Bob Paisley would have struggled to get this lot out of the bottom three.
There was one awful performance after another, with very few shafts of sunlight breaking through. Victor Anichebe gave a sliver of hope but was injured. Moyes fell out with the support for suggesting after the second game that we were in a relegation battle – realism or a clanger, the choice is yours. His attitude towards Vikki Sparks, where he suggested she might get a slap if she asked any more awkward questions, was a disgrace and dragged the fading reputation of the club down even more.
After the inevitable relegation, where we took eight points out of the last forty two and went seven games without scoring a goal. Moyes left to the relief of all and sundry, including himself. He didn’t fancy the Championship and particularly not with the players that he brought in. But we consoled ourselves with the fact that a couple of seasons in the second tier would give us a chance to rebuild. How wrong we were…..
Simon Grayson came in with a good pedigree. He had done well in the Championship in the past and had completed a steady season at Preston North End. He seemed a decent fit, was spoken of in positive terms by my cousin’s husband, who had liked him when he was at Leeds United and he had a working knowledge of the lower leagues. It seemed a decent fit.
It wasn’t. A good, honest man was almost destroyed by the atmosphere that surrounded Sunderland AFC. He had to deal with players who were there on Premier League salaries, players who the previous managers had brought in and an owner who was desperate to get out of English football and return to Texas, Missouri or Ireland – anywhere but Wearside.
He brought some players in; Aiden McGeady was the pick of them but the likes of James Vaughan, Tyias Browning, Brendan Galloway and Jason Steele, were absolute disasters. He won but a single game, a decent 3-1 win at Norwich City, where McGeady and Lewis Grabban (an experienced player who quickly realised that this was a desperately unhappy football club and cut short his loan spell) gave us some hope, hope which disappeared at Ipswich Town’s Portman Road where we were completely outclassed by the home side in every department and where Steel gave a passable impersonation of Mr Pastry meeting Frank Spencer as the goals whizzed past him.
Grayson lasted five more games before Martin Bain, the CEO, sacked him minutes after a late goal gave us a 3-3 draw with rock bottom Bolton Wanderers, managed by a certain Phil Parkinson. I imagine Grayson took his pay-off, sat in a comfy armchair at home and sighed with relief that he was out of the hell hole that the Stadium of Light had become.
And there were still managers out there who thought that they could do something with this bunch of players and salvage something from yet another season that was going desperately wrong. Enter Chris Coleman.
He was a good talker. He had a pedigree as an international manager (so did Ian McColl and he wasn’t very good) and had had more games at that level than Sam Allardyce. He rode into town like the new marshal, ready to clean up all the bad guys and restore some order to a club that resembled the town of Rock Ridge from Blazing Saddles, with its collection of drunks, social misfits and know all’s. Unlike Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder, Chris failed to clean up the town.
Like the previous two incumbents, he had problems. Kone was still there, brooding and occasionally playing. The goalkeeping situation was desperate, having gone from Jordan Pickford to two who were more like Mary Pickford. Just before Coleman took over, his friend Kit Symons watched the Millwall game where Robbin Ruiter had a nightmare. A true friend would have told Chris to stick to the tv work.
Things got no better. There were a couple of decent wins, some dreary draws and some disastrous defeats. The January window brought in a new keeper in Lee Camp, who managed to be even worse than the other two, a nervous centre forward in Ashley Fletcher, Kazenga Lua-Lua, who hardly played and a couple of young loanees from Chelsea (Jake Clarke-Salter) and Liverpool (Ovie Ejaria) whose careers took a huge backward step and who must spend their days regretting ever being talked into/told to go to Wearside.
Relegation was confirmed by Burton Albion and Darren Bent. One up and with four minutes to go, there was still a faint chance that we could avoid the drop into League One. And then along came a former hero to equalise and the bottoms fell out of the players. The excellent Liam Boyce took advantage of this (just as he did a month ago) and down we went.
The club was given away by Ellis Short a few days later and in came the current regime. They sacked Coleman – he said that he wanted to stay and sort things out; they declined to pay his relatively high salary – and Robbie Stockdale was put in charge for the final game of the season against runaway Champions, Wolverhampton Wanderers. We beat them 3-0 and became the only team that Wolves failed to score against all season. There was one thing to be proud of in a wretched season.
Three experienced managers, all of different temperaments and all failed dismally at Sunderland. It’s a blot on their CV’s and all were heavily criticised by an increasingly angry fan base – particularly Moyes. He salvaged some of his reputation by doing a decent job at West Ham and keeping them up while Grayson seems much happier at Blackpool, a club who are just grateful to exist. Coleman worked in China but was dismissed from his job in May of this year. He has not had a managerial post since.
There are some stories in football that make you proud (Jermain Defoe and Bradley Lowery), some that make you sad (the demise of Bury F.C) and then there are the ones that make you angry and frustrated and wishing you had never, ever got involved to the extent that you had.
The paragraphs above refer to the latter; Salut Sunderland changes in a weeks’ time and my scribblings will be no more. In May I will be asked if I wish to renew my season card. The answer is extremely likely to be no – and these two dreadful seasons, where we finished bottom of the leagues we played in are the main reason for that.
Moyes, Grayson and Coleman bear some responsibility for that, but I think we know where the real problems lie -Texas, Missouri, Ireland and Oxford.
The faith is wavering and is almost gone…….