David Sullivan’s warning that everyone at West Ham, the club he now co-owns, faced a 25 per cent pay cut did no harm to the players’ mood, the Hammers dismissing Birmingham City with a minimum of fuss to put more pressure on us at the bottom of the Premier. As our own aversion to winning gathers strength, we wonder whether there might be a lesson in this for Niall Quinn and Ellis Short …
Two stories about Sunderland and full backs tell us a lot about the nature of football.
Mickey Gray was a decent if unspectacular SAFC player, admired both for being a local lad made good and for the exciting partnership he forged down the left flank with Allan “Magic” Johnston. He is remembered less admiringly for his woeful penalty miss in the Charlton play-off final in 1998, and for a restaurant altercation with Wayne Rooney.
As everyone who supports Sunderland probably knows, he also won a star prize for insensitivity when, on the day several members of the SAFC staff were laid off because of the team’s failures on the field, he arrived for training in his gleaming new Ferrari.
A few years later, as Roy Keane sought to add to his promoted squad for the Premier challenges ahead, an approach for a full back – described by Salut! Sunderland‘s source as a player of no more than average quality – came to nothing when his agent demanded wages of £35,000 a week.
Now, Mickey meant no insult to the redundant workers and the unnamed transfer target was doing no more than any other player in aiming for the highest salary he could possibly squeeze out of prospective employers (a mission that must have been successful since he ended up at another Premier club).
But both anecdotes show how out of touch with the real world football is, and has been for several years.
David Sullivan may have chosen crass timing for his warning about the pay cuts he sees as inevitable if West Ham are to regain a stable financial footing.
Had the home game against Brum gone any other way, he’d be wiping huge chunks of egg off his face today.
But look around. Even if you have been unaffected by recession, you’ll know someone who hasn’t. Plenty of people in jobs earning them less in a year that a West Ham player collects each week have been invited to take reductions of 25 per cent and more as their employers either struggle to compete or survive, or just take advantage of the economic gloom to make some tidy savings. I could name people who have been “asked” to take 100 per cent pay cuts.
Instead of philosophising about the weight of expectation burdening Sunderland’s grossly under-performing stars, our leaders should perhaps take a leaf out of Sullivan’s book and suggest a voluntary decrease in earnings pending, say, our next league win. I’d have thought 75 per cent might be a reasonable starting point, though no SAFC player should feel too shy to offer to get along on even fewer thousands a week.
It’s not going to happen, of course. But the time for excuses about our run of defeats and draws has run out.
If fingers are not extracted pretty soon, the club will gearing up for a promotion challenge next season. In that eventuality, we sincerely hope, wages would move in a steep downwards direction under clauses in the existing contracts of those players who can’t just move on and put the disappointment of relegation behind them.
What Sunderland’s owner, Ellis Short, and Niall Quinn need to know – in case they are not already fully aware – is that the current mood of despondency is a serious matter. Among mature, rational fans there is a growing sense of déjà vu after, yet again, hopes of real progression in the club’s attitude, ambition and achievement have been dashed by a succession of poor and, in one or two cases, embarrassing performances.
As one of these supporters, an eloquent man not given to kneejerk profanity, put it in the post-Pompey inquest on the ever-stimulating Blackcats list:
What the f*** is the matter with this football club that regardless of players, managers and owners we are perpetual dog w***?