Sunderland AFC: embracing the sea change on the banks of the Wear

Embracing the Sea Change at Sunderland.

Two recent statements on the club website show just how things are changing on the banks of the Wear and how we are moving back to a situation where the Stadium of Light is once again the home of Sunderland Association Football Club and no longer that of Sunderland Football PLC.

The first was the announcement that Sir Bob Murray had invited Stewart Donald onto the board of The Foundation of Light. The Foundation is the charitable arm of Sunderland AFC but is totally independent of it and receives no financial support from the club, having to raise its own finances.

I recently went to the very impressive Beacon of Light building which is close to the ground next to the aquatic centre, for a meeting and was very impressed with what I saw. As might be expected, there are sports facilities including a 7 a side 4G pitch on the roof, although it is covered so it might be said there is a roof above the roof, but there is a cafe, meeting rooms, an education centre, nursery, skills training facilities, a physiotherapist etc. The project is something very close to Bob Murray’s heart and by inviting Stewart Donald onto the Board of Trustees re-establishes the close bond between the football club and its charitable arm.

Sir Bob Murray

Sir Bob is a man whose influence and impact on Sunderland AFC has been huge. It was he who masterminded the move to the Stadium of Light and the building of the Academy and I have it on good authority that he was very hurt by our previous owner making him persona non grata in and around the football club. It’s good to know that the situation has changed and his presence is welcomed once again.

And read this from Stewart Donald, “The people of Sunderland and wider North East region are at the heart of our desire to reconnect and revive this fantastic football club. I look forward to working alongside Sir Bob and the other Trustees to improve the lives of those in need across Wearside and beyond.” Add to this the numerous statements from Stewart and Charlie that although they bought the club, it belongs to the supporters and compare with the attitude of the Shorts, who on meeting supporters in North America and asked what their interest was, said “we own the club.” That of course was true but suggests a different mindset when it came how the club was to be run.

Ndong, now gone

The second statement regarding the “amicable agreement” with Didier Ndong was more than welcome too. I don’t really know what was going on in the minds of Ndong and his advisers though it has been suggested that his failure to return to training was an attempt to force a cut price move thus allowing any new club daft enough to sign him to pay him (and presumably his agent) substantially more than had they to pay a transfer fee. Full marks to the current regime at the club for calling his bluff, serving him notice of breach of contract, thus not having to pay him, retaining his registration so that he can’t play for anyone else until at least January and for the club to get something back if and when he does sign for another club.

I believe his situation is slightly different to that of Djilibodji, who had at least been given permission to return late to Sunderland but I should expect a similar outcome as taking the matter through the courts would not come cheap. I also think the club would be prepared to undergo an expensive battle should the player try to fight his case.

These are just two of the many positive things that have impressed me with the way things are going since the club was sold just six months ago. The club’s priorities seem to have changed from making what were in essence decisions to try to develop the business side of the club to those which will benefit the footballing side of things. Obviously there is an overlap and the two go hand in hand but whereas with Ellis Short at the helm, it seemed that he was running it as a business, now it is being run as a football club with the aim of making it financially stable. 

We find ourselves in a lower division than we have for years but the difference in the mentality of the squad and those looking after the finances are also completely different since the change of ownership. I have wondered in the past about player recruitment and how much power people like Lee Congerton and Roberto di Fanti were given and how much the deals they struck were in the interests of the club and whether or not they and others involved in the process benefited personally. I don’t know and maybe they didn’t but I can’t help but wonder. There have been plenty of examples of deals that were certainly not in the club’s best interests and I feel that sometimes previous managers have been blamed for wasting money when perhaps they had little control over who was brought in and on what wages.

I won’t tar all players with the same brush. Amongst others, Vito Mannone, Craig Gardner and of course Jermain Defoe did sterling work forging links with supporters but there were too many examples over the past few seasons of players who didn’t really appear to give a toss about the club, the supporters or the region.

Witnessing the changes at the Stadium of Light

The fact that Tony Coton is in charge of recruitment working within strict parameters and that we have a Sunderland supporter as Managing Director, gives me the confidence that the club will be signing decent players at sensible prices and so far all the players that have come to the club seem to have the desire to play and an uncompromising attitude on the pitch coupled with a wish to develop a bond with the fan base. Max Power giving a fan a lift to the pub, Jack Baldwin and others giving up their time to go over to the Foundation of Light to work with local school kids, the way that Lynden Gooch took care of his young mascot before the Rochdale game, young players asking how to get more involved with charitable work are all recent examples of an improving relationship between club, supporters and the area and in presenting a positive image of Sunderland AFC.

Add to that the fact we are having good performances on the pitch and have a decent set of results is making this the most enjoyable season for a Sunderland supporter for quite some time. Can this sea change continue if and when we progress up the pyramid? I’ll wait and see but for now I’m enjoying the ride.

Ha’way the Lads