Soapbox: Quinn, Gateshead and no rest from Great Expectations

We’ve all reacted differently to events swirling round SAFC in recent times. Pete Sixsmith couldn’t resist curling himself up in a ball to hide away and contemplate, though he did emerge to watch Gateshead fans getting disproportionately cross about not winning every game …

If you were expecting a report on last night’s 3-1 win over Wigan Athletic at Hetton, read no further. I decided against it and went to watch Gateshead’s top of the table Conference clash with Wrexham. The ‘Heed lost 4-1, of which more later.

There was another reason for where I spent my evening, and it goes far deeper than just choosing fixtures. Those who know me well are probably aware that when bad things happen, I tend to turn away from it.

This explains piles of unopened bank statements, credit card notifications and final demands from Television X – sorry, the National Geographic Channel – which are currently clogging up the billiard room at Sixsmith Towers.

For me, this has been a bad week as a Sunderland supporter. Saturday’s draw was a disappointment, despite the fightback. I take no pleasure in the endless speculation about Bruce’s job and have found some of the abuse hurled at him on various sites and in newspapers and saloon bars, intolerant and, at times, lacking common decency.

Peter Reid was speaking on the radio this morning about fans’ expectations and I sometimes wonder what ours are.

Reid said the two seventh places that he achieved a decade ago were about what Sunderland should be prepared to settle for. Sometimes I think that a vociferous minority of our fans seem to expect a Champions’ League place, an FA Cup win and Best In Show at Crufts.

Consequently, any manager failing to achieve these is vilified. Bruce is by no means the finest manager in the firmament. I have criticised him and I don’t regard him as being tactically aware but I do think that he has decent relationships with players and that he may well supervise an improvement as the season ticks on.

The abuse heaped on managers and players at the moment is almost out of control. I can’t say that I am looking forward to the return of Darren Bent – partly because he has reached the same level as Joey Barton in my estimation and partly because of the awful insults that are going to be hurled at him.

A section of the Arsenal support reached new depths at White Hart Lane on Sunday with the dreadful chants aimed at Emmanuel Adebayor regarding the shooting incident in Angola. Some Spurs fans retaliated with their usual sickening rants about Arsene Wenger. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Then we had the news that Niall Quinn had stepped aside from the chairman’s role at the Stadium. Here is a man of the utmost integrity who came to the rescue of the club in 2005 after that disastrous relegation. He has stood aloof from the idiocies of some chairmen, the likes of Bates, Gillette and Hicks and Ashley/Llambias. But now he has moved over to oversee the clubs “international development”.

He did say he would probably spend no more than five years at the helm and his time is up. The man he brought in has taken over and, seeing as he has pumped over £100m. into the club, has every right to dictate the way the club goes. But I doubt he will ever have the impact that Quinn has had on Sunderland fans.

So, a night at the Reserves would have been a reminder of the disappointments that I have experienced these last few weeks. It would reinforce the disillusionment that I am feeling with regard to Premier League football in general. I am tired of reading about Arsenal, Chelsea etc in The Guardian and seeing clubs like us, West Brom and Villa being ignored.

I opted for a night at the International Stadium, hoping to restore some of my faith in football. It didn’t.

Gateshead were well beaten by an impressive Wrexham side, but to listen to some of the Gateshead fans, they were “useless”, “chickenhearted” and “absolute sh…”. They were top of the league before the game and, even after their first home defeat of the season, are sitting in third place with 27 points. Another club where expectations have been created and where impatience is running at a far too elevated level.

Back to Northern League tonight and Shildon’s home game with Newton Aycliffe. I bet there will be moaning at Dean Street as well!

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23 thoughts on “Soapbox: Quinn, Gateshead and no rest from Great Expectations”

  1. I’m really not sure about Cloughie, had he been around today either. The players earn more than the boss and they are set for life financially at the age of 22 or 23. When Clough won the league with Forest he did so with a team of players that anyone could have bought. There were no superstars to speak of and at the time he brought a lot of these players in, they could equally have gone anywhere else. Was football better then? I’m not sure but it was infinitely more enjoyable. I am with Hilary and Pete to say that the promotion seasons have always been more fun then being in the top flight.

  2. Pete, you are probably right. He certainly would have had to make enormous compromises in terms of his eccentricity and opinionatedness-and whether he could have…? He is one of my great footballing heroes-my dad supported Sunderland and my grandad Middlesbrough so there was constant discussion of Cloughie throughout my childhood. However I still think my prerequisites for a really good manager hold, and natural authority, which Clough had in bucketloads, is high on the list.

  3. Cloughy wouldn’t have been able to manage nowadays, Hilary. Owners would not put up with his idiosyncratic ways and players would be off to Abu Dhabi quicker than you could say “Jack Robinson” if they had been treated the way the Great Man treated some of his players. Wonderful player and the best manager in my lifetime, pushed closely by Bill Shankly.
    Funnily enough, Mick Buxton, Terry Butcher and Lawrie McMenemy don’t appear on that list.

  4. Just thinking there about Nigel Clough, made me ponder as to if Brian could have been a successful manager in the current Premiership. I certainly think he could, because he had a number of characteristics, which for me mark out top managers. He was quick witted, had a great football brain, was decisive and had a natural authority. There may have been massive boardroom rows, but he was acute enough to win most of those.

    There are a number of managers in the Premiership who, in varying degrees also have these skills. Whether Bruce has them is a matter of opinion. I join with Jeff in saying that I enjoyed Sunderland’s seasons in the Championship race more than much of our time in the lower regions of the Premiership. We do need to decide where and what we want to be. Short obviously wants us to flourish in the Premiership , but if we are to do that we need someone with a few of those Cloughie skills to take us forward.

  5. I should clarify Pete. I was not suggesting that the current time is an appropriate time to have organized protest. I was pointing out that there are times when an organized protest, or collective effort is justified and required. Some of those days when I would have considered this appropriate were during our halcyon days in the Clock Stand Paddock. I think that maybe the combined sound of your voice and mine identifying certain deficiencies may have been described in that way mate. 🙂

    What I would give to be transported back in time and to be stood on the front barrier looking down the tunnel with you stood behind, as the master of all you survey. Wonderful, wonderful memories of some terrible football but great times!

  6. Sitting with Pete watching the Norwich game was more frustrating than depressing (because of the team, not Pete). It was the same side that were a joy to watch v Stoke so I really can’t work out what happened. This frustration understandably is directed straight back at the players who were so ineffective and the manager – but away from the game, it helps to be more reflective about what it is that we really want.
    To get into the top 4 and stay there requires the continuous spending of obscene amounts of money and I believe that this would be totally unjustifiable considering the economics of the NE particularly.
    I strangely quite enjoyed our time in the Championship (but hate the though of going back) – playing football against normal football clubs (mostly) and winning more than we lost.
    We really do have a club with a culture & ethos to be extremely proud of thanks to St Niall and I believe Bruce to be a decent bloke. The club appears to be professionally run and plays a key role in the community. I think that all of this is generally appreciated and even envied by many other clubs. We should celebrate this.
    I was very worried when my eldest texted the Quinny news as without him at the heart of the club, this ethos could easily be lost. Hopefully, his new role will still enable the club to be suffused with his character. Fingers crossed.
    In short (Short?), I would be chuffed with 7th each season. Winning more than we lose, scoring in as many games as possible, and not being to caught up in the financial obscenity and moral vacuum of getting into the top 6 and staying there.

  7. Nigel Clough has done well on a very limited budget. Derby do not/cannot pay big fees or wages for players. They have come to terms with their situation and probably believe that the way forward is sensible stewardship, not spending huge amounts of money on Kenny Miller, Robbie Savage etc as they did last time.

    Why do we need to protest? Is the club being badly run? Are the players utterly out of their depth as they were in 2005? Does the manager have the experience to sort it out?
    Things are not great, but why such a mood of depression? I am not happy about the situation at the moment, but I think we are turning in on ourselves far too much.
    I accept that others will disagree with me on this.

  8. Excellent posts from Hilary and Red Frog.

    I’ve though the same thing exactly about Nigel Clough. It really isn’t working for him. Like you Hilary I wanted him to succeed as I absolutely idolised his father. If his surname wasn’t Clough I dare say that he would have been sacked by now.

    I recall the red cards (Red Frog). It was a good idea. Sometimes fans have to get the message across that things are not good enough. I think it’s a shame that a lot of our supporters equate complaint with treachery, when the truth is that it’s anything but. I wouldn’t want to see organised protests become routine but there are times when a collective voice needs to develop. It’s posts from people like you folks that make this website what it is; something above the norm.

  9. Does any one remember the Red Cards we showed the Board at Roker park? Memory fails as to the year and owner.

    At the time it was the only way to get the message across. I dont seem to remember it getting more than local coverage.

    You can sing all the songs you wish, complain to all the available websites or simply just boo on mass. Lets face it, voting with your feet only works on a minor and persional level unless you can get 40,000 others to join in.

    As stated ‘The Romance years are over’. Quinn is gone and the unknown commodities Short and Bruce leave me very apprehensive about the future of the club and how long my tolerance shall last.

    For the love of the club let me be proven wrong. The thought of Filtrona Park on a wet afternoon does not appeal

  10. Thinking of the Championship, it is interesting to see Nigel Clough still there at Derby. As with last season he started very well, but it looks as if things are beginning to go from him again. I would so like to see him succeed, but fear that he isnt really good enough to make the transition to Premiership football. One wonders to what extent he is being retained for sentimental reasons. There was something moving about the way that Brian Clough took his boys with him to his matches when he was a manager, and it would be such a romantic story if Nigel could succeed, especially at Derby, but there isnt much romance left in football. As someone said, you Jeremy I think, Niall Quinn brought a bit a bit of romance to Sunderland, but unfortunately I fear that the romance is over and we are looking at something altogether more mundane. I hope that Short can offer us a bright future, and something exciting is on the horizon, but I feel a bit downhearted this week.

  11. It’s an interesting piece from Pat Murphy as usual. The grim reality of over a decade of Championship football for Nottingham Forest is hitting home now. The rankings in that division are interesting. Of the top 6 there is only Brighton that have not been in the PL within the last decade, whereas out of the bottom 6 only Coventry been in the PL over the same period. I’m not sure that this is a very reliable indicator of the consequences of being outside the top flight for an extended period, but the top half of the Championship consists of clubs that have been in the PL in relatively recent years. The exceptions are Leeds, Brighton and Cardiff. Few would doubt that something special is going on down on the south coast under Gus Poyet. What is remarkable is that several of these clubs have been down as far the third tier and yet are resurgent; Southampton, Blackpool, Leeds, Leicester and Hull.

    The top of the PL is very much a cartel but for the rest of the division (and for the one below) it’s very much a merry go round as this list and tables show.

  12. There is an interesting article on the BBC Sport website by Pat Murphy about the situation at Nottingham Forest; well worth a read and it puts our current travails into some perspective.
    I’m not advocating we appoint Steve McClaren ( although his observations on the unwillingness of English players to learn comes as no real surprise), but it shows how far a club like Forest have slipped in recent years.
    Still grumpy – sorry.

  13. Ifos. That’s exactly how I feel mate. Expectations are that spending millions will improve the quality of the squad and not go backwards.

  14. Demerera, I do agree about managers not being able to sustain a long term vision in a football culture which demands immediate results. However, I feel a key problem with Bruce is that he is incapable of having an effective vision. Visionary is about the last word I would use for him. There is no sense of a coherent plan being put in place. Some of the tactical decisions that he has made this season are risable and show a real failure to manage effectively at this level. The evidence for this is not just from his time with Sunderland, but from his other management jobs. He lacks the subtlety and skill to build a consistent and effective team. I also have strong doubts about his man management skills. My feeling is that he cannot take us forward. We may not ever make the top of the League, but it would be good to watch entertaining and enjoyable football sometime soon.

  15. Some good points raised, and may be I am harking back to a time gone forever. However, those managers had talent, you could measure the teams improvement under them in performance as well as points.

    Had Steve Bruce managed to show a gradual improvement in the teams performance since last February then most of the support would still be with him. He hasn’t and that on top of all the money spent does not go down well.

    When you have a backer who has money to invest, expectations are bound to be raised. I am all for giving managers time, but I honestly believe that Bruce just does not have the talent required to manage an ambitious club at the level. No amount of extra time will change that.

    Additionally, his attacks on the fans are at the least missplaced and at worst suicidal.

  16. Has Steve Bruce raised our expectations? He certainly hasn’t raised mine, he’s performing exactly as I expected him to: his record has never been more than mediocre, he constantly makes the same mistakes, regardless of whichever club he’s in charge of. So no, Bruce isn’t a victim of expectations he’s raised, the raised expectations come from the amount of money that has been pumped into the club in the past 4 seasons, and here we are, 16th!
    No, I don’t EXPECT to be Champion’s League, etc, but I agree with CSB that surely we must be allowed to hope. On the other hand I really don’t think a cup run (FA or League) is too much to EXPECT from a manager who has been given a lot of money to spend, but who singularly fails to deliver.
    No vitriol here, just a dreadful sense of getting what I hoped I wouldn’t, but knew I would.

  17. I hardly think you can blame Steve Bruce for all of the failings you mention within football these days , CSB . I think he has raised the expectations of the fans – unfortunately that is working against him at the moment with a realtively poor start – I still think he will turn it around – if he doesn’t no doubt Short will sort things out when he feels it’s time . In the meantime surely it’s better all round to get behind the manager and the team .

  18. @CSB

    While I agree with your sentiments about the PL and CL, you contradict yourself by talking of a manager doing a Shankly or a Clough – it simply isn’t possible any more, football has become too transitional.

    Steve Bruce is, ridiculously after 2 seasons, the 7th longest serving manager in the Premier League. Managers simply aren’t given time to build a long term vision anymore. And if they ARE successful and get in a position with enough power to be able to start looking long-term, they’re invariably snapped up by a bigger club.

    But that said, I think the statement that 7th is the best we can hope for is talking mostly about the short-term. If we can regularly and consistently finish in the top half, then we’ll have a platform to possibly push into the top 4-6 every so often. But it won’t happen overnight, and that’s where the criticism of the fan’s expectations comes from.

  19. Pete say’s:

    ‘Reid said the two seventh places that he achieved a decade ago were about what Sunderland should be prepared to settle for. Sometimes I think that a vociferous minority of our fans seem to expect a Champions’ League place, an FA Cup win and Best In Show at Crufts’

    If Sunderland fans accepeted these statements that seventh is the best we can hope for then what is really the point. Are we happy to always be bridesmaids and never the bride. Would seventh represent a victories season regardless of the amount of money pumped in to the club and the players pockets. Did Bill Shankley think this way when he picked up Liverpool in Division two.

    What all teams need outside of the big 4 (mayby 6) is a manager who is desperate to prove himself, to build a legacy (Clough at Forest) and leave a mark. If we are now saying that in reality there is no way we will ever achieve our ambitions then what is the point.

    Like Pete I have become increasingly disillusioned with the PL, the current premier league set up is designed to keep the current top at the top and unless you do a Man City then thats pretty much it. However does that mean you can’t still dream, that all hope should be lost. Not in my book, I still expect to see a Sunderland side that can at least make an attempt to do this. God can you imagine the impact upon the players if they knew they were not expected to win anything just get a respectable top half finnish, they would pick and choose which games to perform in.

    Hope springs eternal and so it should, I expect for my money a decent attempt at a side trying to play football because the day that stops is the day I stop bothering with it as well. Case in point, The Champions League, that mockery of the old European Cup, where the top teams get richer and even more unasailable on ther lofty perches. I remember seeing Celtic, Forest, Asto Villa and a host of other supposedly lesser European teams winning it, but not anymore its a competition for the bloated big boys, well I do not watch any of it anymore and would certainly not pay a satellite channel for the supposed privilage.

    Football in this country is rapidly approaching a cross roads where fans are going to start to drift away from the lesser lights, some joining the glory boys, I wish we were one, but if we are never to be and we can,t even dream/ hope to be then its time to call it a day.

    And all this just because Steve Bruce can’t get his act together.

  20. ..and Bishop “only” won 3-1 against Stokesley. How are their management and board feeling at the moment? Bottom of the league and goal difference of minus 62. Big game at Dean St on Saturday.
    Personally, I’m disappointed in the extreme that Quin nahs moved, but I understand why. I just hope that it isn’t the beginning of the end at SAFC for him – wherever we go, we’ll be a poorer club without him at the helm

  21. Shildon lost 4-1. The managers job is safe as he puts the money into the club that pays the players. There was some grumbling but no eruptions of booing as at the SoL and at Gateshead. Might just stick with Northern League football.

  22. The sad fact remains that whilst that lot up the road have been lumbered with “the idiocies” of Ashley and Llambias they are above in the PL table.

    I’ve always though that Sunderland fans have always suffered from their own “depressed expectations” rather than the “elevated” variety.

    However the concept that Bruce has raised seems to be gathering ground. I do not think that there is any basis for his claim, just that he has been found wanting and should have been sent packing some time ago. That’s why people are becoming bitter.

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