Sunderland end of term reports (2): not good enough

Spice


A slight behind-the-counter hitch has delayed what was intended as the second of Salut! Sunderland's end-of-term reports. We are nearing the end of an extraordinary week (leaving aside minor league football in Rome) for Sunderland, the North East and indeed for this site.

Ellis Short has given us some encouraging clues as to how serious he is about making SAFC a force in football. Colin Randall* – pictured above with Mme Salut at one of the finest Indian restaurants in the world, Sunderland's Spice Bollywood – has perhaps suffered too many false promises and unnecessary relegations to be objective; he nevertheless wishes Ellis well …

Just before someone amazingly close to Salut! Sunderland was kicked out at the end of the third year, the headmaster's comment at the bottom of the report said: "Not good enough for a grammar school."

It didn't need the head at SAFC Grammar to make a similar point at about 4pm on May 24. Every boy and girl in school knew it full well (for the second time this week, no pun intended): we had not shown ourselves to be good enough for the academy known as the Premier League.

Managers are fond of saying the relegated teams are the worst in the league because they finished 18th, 19th and 20th.

We know better. It wouldn't have taken that much of a fluke to produce last day results to send us down. It is not as if improbable combinations have failed to do so in the past (the Jimmy Hill and Wimbledon relegations spring to mind).

Sunderland fans are passionate in their support. They are also capable of steeling themselves to punish the club they love.

Despite the offers on season tickets very smartly announced before our fate was sealed, the punishment for another Championship season would have been severe. Remember how long it took Roy Keane to drive attendances back up even after guiding us from the bottom into a promotion challenge that saw us go up in first place?

Make no mistake. The gates next season would have been dismal, at least until it had become well known that we were not only in contention for an immediate return but hitting goals and scoring victories in a way that brought back memories of the glorious days of the Gray/Johnston left side link ups, the Summerbee crosses and the SuperKev/Quinn goal machine.

And imagine if we'd got to within a whisker of promotion and then failed all the same, with or without a Jeff Whitley-style penalty in a playoff shoot-out.

This has been a dreadful season for Sunderland fans.

As a fan who has lived outside the North East since early adulthood, I have written more than once about having seen, during 18 months in Abu Dhabi, more live Sunderland football than at any time since I was a lad in the main stand paddock or on the Fulwell End at Roker Park.

It was not an especially pleasurable experience. All those games, yes. But also, all those defeats: worse still, all those performances of such incompetence or lack of passion – often enough accompanied by commentary only in Arabic because our games failed to appeal to Rob McCaffrey's Dubai-based studio treatment- that you wanted to kick the television screen.

Ellis Short knows how bad we've been; in his short interview with safc.com he even talked about the lack of fun.

I frankly don't care whether Mrs Ellis Short threw a strop about some people walking their dogs through the grounds of Skibo Castle. Nor will I lie awake wondering what prompted the South Korean authorities to look – though not, in the event, leap if I have correctly understood the archive – into some of his business dealings.

When it comes to Sunderland AFC, all I really care about with regard to Mr Short, Mr Quinn and the rest of them is where they are taking us, and perhaps how. OK, I do care a lot about Mr Quinn because he seems a top bloke and has done more for SAFC than anyone in living memory, but my point otherwise stands.

If where they are taking us is the top 10 finish Ellis Short sees as a good target for next season, that will do me fine for starters.

Drumaville, in my view, put down some decent foundations. The football since promotion has been dire but we've survived.

On the eve of our 5-0 win at Luton to clinch the 2007 Championship title, I said – and wrote, for a national newspaper in Ireland – that fourth bottom 2007/2008 would suffice for lots of long-suffering Sunderland fans. I was one of them, so while it meant an excess of nervewracking moments and on-the-pitch failure – fifth bottom could almost be regarded as a small bonus.

I was not, however, prepared for a repetition this season and will be even less so for 2009-2010.

Ellis, his money and his business acumen are hugely welcome as viewed from my spot, when I can get there, up in the East Stand.

And the words from his Q&A with safc.com that best describe the task in hand are these:

"Our only real goal this year was not to get relegated, and with the money we spent
last summer we probably shouldn't have come as close as we did …
we'll do what we need to do this summer to get this team into a place where we
can try to finish in the top 10 next year. I don't ever want to go through a
relegation battle again and I don't want the fans to have to go through it, I don't
want Niall to have to go through it… And in the longer term we just want to
continue to improve and always run things well. I don't want to promise things and
not be able to deliver but that's genuinely what we are going to try and do."

Do deliver that, Mr Short, and see how grateful we'll all be …

Me at sol* Colin Randall on Colin Randall:

…he has carried the heavy burden of supporting Sunderland since his father took him to a Division Two match at Middlesbrough in which Brian Clough scored the SAFC winner. He is a journalist and, after a spell in France, helped launched a national newspaper in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) before returning to Europe to divide his time between France and the UK. Perversely, he retains his East Stand season ticket – and is delighted that it is used most games.

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