Sunderland reports cards: (2) separated from Newcastle only by colour of stripes

Bill Taylor (L), with the Germany coach Joachim Low on a trip to Stuttgart

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 …

Dear Colin,

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),

Steve Bruce

* If you want to have your say, at similar length, e-mail M Salut at

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11 thoughts on “Sunderland reports cards: (2) separated from Newcastle only by colour of stripes”

  1. Signing Ricardo Fuller would have been great providng we kept him fit. With our track record last season he would have probably done a John Hughes and played 2 minutes and picked up an injury that ended his career.
    No use wasting time speculating what might have been. It’s over and we finished a respecable tenth Let’s look to next season.
    How about Pavluychenko and Ba plus Roger Johnson, Nzogbia and a decent left back? That should set us back about £30 million. Welbeck back on loan and Vaughan , Larsson and Reo Coker on Bosmans? Might get £2mill for sale of Nos, McCartney and Healy plus £3 for Anton . Add that to Bent’s fee and we have just about broken even. Meyler and Campbell back by Xmas . Knott, Tounkare, Adams, Noble and Cook all develop overnight into useful Premiership players and Europe here we come. Pass me another whisky please pet!

  2. What a wonderfully refreshing post from Mensah’s Pocket.

    You are totally correct. One of the most frustrating things for fans is the constant denial. He was quoted the other day saying that not replacing Bent in January was the right decision. What complete and utter nonsense and lies. If he really believes that was the right thing then he should be sacked. I don’t for one moment believe that is Mr Bruce’s view. Some honesty would be appreciated and respected by the supporters. He doesn’t wish to incur the wrath of his employers understandably, but I would respect him more if he’d said something like “Signing Ricardo Fuller for 4M in the January window would have helped us finish higher in the league, and the outlay would have been covered by the additional money based on a higher finish.”

    Some honesty and responsibility would be great.

  3. 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.

    Anyone think Steve Bruce will ever say something like this? Those would be the words of a man that realises he’s accountable for his decisions.

  4. Indeed Michael, I believe that we are in more agreement than we are in disagreement. However, we weren’t scoring when Welbeck was playing alongside Gyan.

    There is little doubt that players were being brought back too soon because this happened to several of them including Meyler (twice), Turner, Cattermole, Campbell and Ferdinand. His methods have been reviewed and apparently the club are returning to the training methods used two years ago prior to Bruce’s reign. I couldn’t be more in agreement with what you say about the loan system.

  5. Birflatt Boy…..once again we are going to disagree. We finished tenth because ten other teams got less points than us over a 38 game season. We would have had a lot more points but for injuries,particularly those to Welbeck and Campbell. Now here is where we might agree. The question NQ needs to find an answer to is whether or not the injuries were down to the manager’s training methods or his eagerness to rush players back before they had fully recovered. If that is the case then SB should be sacked. If not he has doo bloody well to get us to tenth place. My only other crticism is his reliance on the loan system. IMO August is too early to be taking domestic players on loan.

  6. Mr Bruce is very fortunate. Newcastle Utd threw away a wonderful lead which would have taken them above us in the table. He seems to have escaped the noose by beating a horrible West Ham Utd team which was indescribably poor. Had we played them a little earlier this season I doubt we’d have taken any points.

    He’s huffed and he’s puffed to the end of the season, but a mammoth rebuilding programme has to start. Is that progress? Not in the least! We will not progress with Mr Bruce in charge. I fear relegation and another long cold winter is just around the corner.

  7. Excellent article I feel, from Bill, and followed by equally excellent comments from Phil (both as usual).

    My detailed thoughts on this (for what they are worth will follow shortly), but one of the biggest problem we have is the “nature” of our expectation. A tenth place finish should be considered an achievement in the overall run of things, but that doesn’t mask the dismal performances since January. In fact, it is only down to the peculiarities and idiosyncratic aspects of a season where anyone can beat anyone, and where a Rizla paper separates those who appear to have survived comfortably from the three relegated sides. Given where we were at Christmas, an even poor (and not the appalling results that we’ve had) would have seen us climb much higher in the table.

    The club, it’s structure and finances etc have all grown considerably. but what has been lost sight of is the simple fact that the PL has grown and consolidated at the same time, particularly amongst the so called “big “four, five or six. The cartel which runs the title race are now headed by a club that generates in excess of 60M in a season from Murdoch’s pocket. Gone are the days when a single rich benefactor could turn around a club in the way that Francis Lee, Llionel Pickering, Jack Hayward, Jack Walker or even Dave Whelan did at the so called smaller clubs in decades past.

    We are a provincial club with an attitude akin to the deadbeat that spends like a millionaire when they go to Torremolinos for a fortnight, but have to live on beans and tinned sardines for the rest of the year (Gyan cost 13M), yet we don’t own a right back.

    I think there needs to be an attitude shift on spending and the “types” of players that we sign. Too many eggs were in one basket. Record signing alongside a Man Utd loanee. We need to own our own players to build a team.

    For me the tenth place finish seems to be down to good luck, and some bizarre results than any aspect of football management. This is not aimed necessarily at just Bruce but at Quinn and Short who need to think long and hard about policy and strategy. This goes beyond bad signings and why players who could perform at the top of their game can’t get a look in at at what has been a struggling side. This has to do with culture of the club, the area, the support etc. A much more thorough analysis of the profile of these players is needed if we are going to benefit from South and Central America.

  8. The frightening thing is that could be genuine, which is why I do not think that he is good enough.

    I hope that I’m wrong (I would be delighted to eat “humble pie”) but, genuinely, believe that SB’s belief does not match the aspirations of many supporters and certainly not those of Ellis Short.

    Why should we not, realistically, challenge for the European spots?

    Because we are Sunderland?

    I’m sorry but I cannot and will not subscribe to that view.

    Despite all of the arguments to the contrary there is still a fluidity about the spots for the Europa League and please don’t forget that in the two 7th place seasons, under Peter Reid, that with sensible investment, in January, we would have been seriously challenging for a Champions League place!

    Indeed, if it had not been for a diabolical performance by Graham Poll we would have been top of the table more than halfway through the season!!

    I’m not, though, suggesting that we can win the league, or gain a Champions League spot YET!

    What I AM suggesting is that we should be aiming to, seriously, challenge Spurs (where were they two years ago?), Everton and the like.

    If the management cannot do that (or believe that they can) then they should be replaced by those that can and do!!

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