Also in the series:
* Progress achieved, but Newcastle can smile too
You were warned. Not every supporter of Sunderland was mollified by the 3-0 win at West Ham that took us above Newcastle United to a 10th top finish. There’ll be plenty of room in this series for optimism and praise. Salut! Sunderland is in the hands of those readers who choose to write end-of-season reviews. Bill Taylor is not so much downbeat as philosophical as he turns his thoughts into a spoof of one of those post-match e-mails we are accustomed to receiving from Steve Bruce. It will annoy some, amuse or stimulate others …
I apologise. To you and Mackems everywhere. Not for Sunderland’s rather dismal overall performance this past season but for trying to mislead you about it. I should’ve known you wouldn’t be fooled.
We finished halfway down the table because that’s what we are: a halfway-down-the-table team. Just like Newcastle; no better, no worse. We may profess to hate them but when you come down it, the biggest difference between us and them is nothing more than the colour of our stripes.
All the fine talk about Europe was just that – fine talk. Hot air. Rubbish. And when we lowered our sights to a top-10 place, well, we all knew in our heart of hearts that we probably weren’t lowering them quite enough. We’re a top 10 side by the skin of our teeth. Spiritually, we’re more like a top 12 side.
What went wrong? Nothing. We had the season that it was written on the wall for us to have.
We won a couple of games against sides that should have steam-rollered over us and lost more than a couple to sides we should’ve had sewn up within the first 10 minutes.
Our star players kept showing their feet of clay and looking around with endearing – no, make that infuriating – astonishment when they tripped over them. Our promising youngsters kept breaking their promise. Our steady, reliable workhorses kept looking as if it was time they were put out to pasture.
And I kept lying about it. Making outrageous excuses and even more outrageous promises. But that’s partly what I’m paid for. There’s certainly no portion of my salary earmarked for honesty
Had I been honest, I’d have said, “Hey, what you see is what you get. We’re an average Premiership side playing average Premiership football and we’ll have an average season. Get used to it.”
Because that’s football. You have a handful of teams at the top who seem able to do no wrong – though even they slip up badly once in a while – and a handful at the bottom who can do nothing right. And even they occasionally pull a surprise out of the bag. That’s nothing more than the law of averages at work.
In the middle, you have your Sunderlands and your Newcastles. We buy players, we sell players, we make big promises and invariably talk a good game. We act surprised and horrified when the side doesn’t live up to our boastful forecasts.
That’s because they’re human. They have off-days, lazy days, hungover days, days when simply nothing goes right. And once in a while, days when simply nothing goes wrong. But that’s the exception rather than the rule for a mid-table club such as ours.
As for myself, I’m just like most club managers – a guy doing what he can and trying to keep his job. Ask yourself: have YOU ever worked for a company that you believed was managed properly? I doubt it. Well, I run a football company and, like managers everywhere, I make mistakes, I make tactical errors, I hire the wrong people sometimes, or put them into jobs they’re not best suited for, and let the wrong people leave.
We’re pretty interchangeable. Newcastle replaced Chris Hughton with Alan Pardew and nothing much changed. Sunderland could replace me (though I hope they don’t) with Avram Grant and probably nothing much would change. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants, making it up as we go along and hoping we do more right than wrong. And we’re all wise after the event, when the horse has bolted and we’re shutting the stable door.
So there you have it. The truth at last. If only I could’ve admitted all this at the outset and told the fans, “Listen, don’t get your hopes up too much, okay? We’ll have a few high points this season and a slump or two and we’ll finish where we usually do. In the top 14. That’s a whole lot better than relegation. And if you don’t expect too much, you’re less likely to be disappointed.”
Try to keep that in mind for next season because I won’t be saying it again.
All the best (such as it is),
* If you want to have your say, at similar length, e-mail M Salut at firstname.lastname@example.org