Malcolm Dawson writes……off the field activities have dominated the news coming out of all three of the North East’s big clubs (I’ll stretch a point and include Boro!) in the past two weeks. Last night’s game at Leicester might have put us back in the bottom three (but didn’t) but there’s no doubt it’ll be the weekend that brings squeaky pants time. Have the Mags timed Benitez appointment on purpose, recent experiences showing that a new manager wins his second game in charge when it is a local derby? Hopefully we’ll be feeling more confident about surviving another relegation scare by Sunday tea-time but whether we stay up or not, the time is now right for Ellis Short to learn from past mistakes and move the club forward.
I am pretty sure that somewhere within the bowels of Sunderland Football Club, there is an employee whose job description contains a section requiring him or her to monitor web sites such as Salut! Sunderland, RTG etc. as well as keeping tabs on what is being said on social media. I am also pretty sure that one of the ways professional journalists gain information and ideas for stories comes via the internet.
When I was Chair of the Heart of England Branch of the Supporters’ Club if you Googled “Sunderland supporters”, our website was always at or near the top of the list. I did several radio interviews and had a couple of e-mails from Sky Sports on the strength of this.
I have made no secret of my feelings about the way SAFC has been run since the departure of Niall Quinn from the boardroom. My criticisms of former Chief Executive Margaret Byrne, and ultimately owner Ellis Short are there for all to see in articles and comments I have made on this site. I made the link between the re-structuring of the club and a lack of progress on the field and negative publicity off it, both of which seemed to have worsened since the departure of our former centre forward. I made many of those statements before I had seen similar ones elsewhere though I’m not arrogant enough to think that others didn’t have the same thoughts. Recent headlines and articles, (see for example: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/mar/05/sunderland-stokoe-quinn-adam-johnson-margaret-byrne and http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/niall-quinn-set-sunderland-return-7547277?) offer similar views.
Recent reports suggest that maybe the Irishman has been approached to return to the club which he admitted “got under his skin.” I hope so because we need someone who understands our region, our club. Except it’s not our club any more. It is part of the portfolio of a Texas billionaire and I don’t see him having the emotional attachment to Sunderland AFC that a true fan has. I don’t buy into the theory that you have to have a lifelong affinity to a particular club to feel passionate about it. Take Gary Bennett, Kevin Ball, Marco Gabbiadini, as well Niall Quinn himself as proof of that. Super Kevin Phillips and Dick Advocaat have also shown how the club can affect a professional who only came to do a job in the first instance.
I don’t get the passion that those mentioned have shown when I look at Ellis Short. I thank him for the financial commitment he has shown, coming in as he did when the recession hit Drumaville Consortium looked to sever their ties, but I have been critical of many of his decisions. Firstly appointing himself Chairman wasn’t necessarily a mistake, losing the expertise and footballing brain that Quinny brought to the boardroom was. The restructuring of the club off the field has brought abject failure. It may be that’s the business model he wants but supporters want to see success on the pitch above anything else. However, with the huge amount of money that Premiership football brings it is surely a mistake to ignore the football side of things, even when commercial concerns are given priority.
So would the return of Niall Quinn be the answer? After all it was he who persuaded Ellis Short to invest in the club in the first place and Margaret Byrne was his appointment. But (and here’s the rub) a structure was set up that in my view patently hasn’t worked. Off the field the negative publicity from the Di Canio, Ricky Alvarez and Adam Johnson affairs all reflect badly on the club and the club’s reaction to them only fuelled the fire. The criticisms of Di Canio’s appointment seemed to take the club by surprise but surely anyone with a knowledge of the area could have predicted it. Was Miliband consulted ahead of the appointment? Then to make the statement it did
http://www.safc.com/news/club-news/2013/april/club-statement and to end with “Neither Sunderland AFC, nor Paolo Di Canio, will make any further comment on this matter.” did nothing to assuage the concerns of those who felt strongly about the issue.
Fast forward a few years and when it was obvious the club’s handling of the Adam Johnson affair produced a similar statement, with a similar ending there would be more to come. Unlike M Salut I did not see this as a “dignified” response but as a fudge – a denial of the club’s part in the whole affair, with no apology to the victim or the victim’s family. Don’t tell me that Margaret Byrne didn’t see that statement before it was published. That she immediately decided to skip the country was yet another example of her head in the sand approach. She claims she didn’t share her knowledge of Johnson’s activities with the rest of the board. She may not have done but I and many others could see from the outset that that initial statement would not be the end of the matter.
I do not think that had Niall Quinn still been involved in the club’s administration things would have been allowed to develop in the way that they did.
When I did a Q&A for a West Ham website just ahead of Advocaat’s last game in charge I was asked who I thought would go down. I identified Aston Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland as three clubs with big problems. No great insight perhaps but I made the link that all three had imposed a system of player recruitment that put the power in the hands of people not directly concerned with performances on the pitch. Advocaat clearly didn’t think a lot of many of the players brought in over the summer. He was still struggling to make a team from a host of substandard players on high wages. Players brought in by Di Fanti or Congerton on contracts negotiated by and approved by Margaret Byrne. And look where that’s got us.
The signs are that Sam Allardyce made his demands clear before he came and has taken a more hands on approach to player recruitment and retention. Look at the club website and see how many players we have out on loan. Look at the summer signings – Vergini, Coates, Matthews all in and out with little impact on the team. Look at Valentine Roberge, picking up his wages for doing what? Is he even training with the team? And there’s still Alvarez claiming he doesn’t even know who holds his registration.
Now is an ideal time for Ellis Short to recognise his mistakes, listen to advice from those who know the game and know the region. Niall Quinn may or may not be considering a return to Sunderland AFC but whoever the owner brings in needs to have the intelligence, the knowledge of football, the understanding of just what SAFC means to the area and the ability for communicating with the media that Quinny has shown.