Well, that was the week that was. ‘Crunch’, ‘must-win double-header’, and ‘make-or-break week that would define not just this season but possibly the future of the club’ were all terms bandied about this time last week, and with good reason. On the back of the Bristol City comeback, this had to be the week that we kicked on and built on the Bristanbul momentum, but we’ve blown it. It’s hard to see any way back now.
The week started with a home game to Brentford, and bizarre claims from their manager that we’d all turn up expecting to win comfortably. Has he seen our home form? Has he ever canvassed a Sunderland fan for their thoughts? I don’t know about you, but the last time I turned up to the SOL expecting to win was about 8 years ago. This is Sunderland. It takes more than an away draw at Bristol City to raise expectations that much.
Predictably, it became apparent within about 5 minutes of kick off that it was going to be another of those days, as Brentford rang rings around us. Early in the second half we continued our impressive party trick of turning attack into defence in a matter of seconds, as Brentford burst forward following our corner. Cattermole chased back in vain with all the speed and agility of an arthritic 90-year old chain-smoker. "That's him knackered then". Indeed, true to form, our former captain and leader spent the next 40 minutes in his now-trademark stance of 'hands on hips and out of breath', staggering around the pitch, unable to move any quicker than snail’s pace. A miserable afternoon was completed when he whacked what should have been a simple 5-yard pass to the wing straight ahead and out for a goal kick.
By the time I got home, my phone was buzzing with the usual group chat messages, along the lines of "rubbish," "disgraceful" and "pathetic", or words to that effect. Amongst them, though, was the news that Martin Bain had a) been confronted by a fan after the match, and b) agreed to a Q&A in the town in March.
Quite frankly, it's about time. Why should Bain get an easy ride when he's at least somewhat-culpable for our demise? As Coleman says, he's a big boy and can handle a few heated words.
Or can he? The man who promised to reconnect the club and fans has now ducked out of the talk-in before tickets even went on sale. We as fans are expected to show unwavering passion and commitment to our club, yet we have players too scared to play at home (or away), a Chief Executive too scared to show his face in the town and an owner too scared to show his face in the country. The situation is grim, and the no-show totally indicative of the cowardice culture at the club.
Next up, Bolton; and seemingly our last bite of the cherry. As luck would have it – and by complete coincidence – I'd been asked to spend Tuesday and Wednesday working away in Manchester. Ideal, or so I thought, until I looked into booking transport from Bolton back to Manchester after the game. Despite a distance of less than 20 miles, the only public transport back post-match was a bus due to arrive back into Piccadilly at 00:45. No thanks. A few years ago I'd have jumped at the chance regardless, but given the choice now between the inevitable cold and miserable defeat or a night alone holed up in a Travelodge Alan Partridge-style, there was only one winner.
By the time I returned from my cosy Wetherspoons table for one – it was steak night, afterall - 20 minutes had elapsed in the game and we were already 1-0 down. I debated it for a good 20-seconds, but no, I didn't bother looking for a stream.
The result leaves us where I suspect we'll remain for the result of the season – bottom and cut adrift. The mood has changed. Instead of the post-Bristol hope there is anger and resignation. A line has been crossed, I think. The worm is turning.
So much so that, in just three days, over 8000 fans have already signed a petition calling for the sale of the club. That’s a healthy start, in my book. Online petitions alone won’t force Ellis Short to sell up, but it does highlight the issue and raise awareness of the cause. As I say, the worm is turning. The national media have picked up on it now and are running stories denouncing the appalling mismanagement Short has overseen. There is no way back for Short and Martin Bain. We know it, they’ve known it for a long time, and the patronising pretence that Short is still committed – just not committed enough to actually go to a game – isn’t fooling anyone.
Indeed, by Wednesday afternoon, reports emerged that Short had dropped the asking price down to £50m. Still a pisstake, in my opinion. By Thursday evening we were ‘free to a good home’, providing any prospective owners were willing to take on the mountain of debt he had racked up as well. After months – years – of calling for him to drop the asking price, Short had finally admitted defeat and was willing to give the club away for nothing.
That’s quite the turnaround from the “cut-price” figure of £85m quoted last summer, or the eye-watering £167m Short reportedly asked for a year or two ago. But that’s where we are now. This time last week there was faint hope and a platform to build on. Now even the most ardent of supporters would struggle to make any logical argument for us avoiding relegation to League One.
I’d take no pleasure from being proved right, but I suspect Boro will turn us over again on Saturday and hammer another nail into our coffin. They’ll love that, too, and although it’s worlds away from losing to the Mags, I suspect a couple of early goals against and the sight of a 2000 gleeful Smoggies will be enough for our home fans to finally up the ante and turn on the board.
It’s long overdue. Even a week ago, the idea of protesting or demonstrating against the club was met with a lukewarm reception at best. Now it seems inevitable.
First and foremost, I hope we smash Boro and put together a run of wins to survive. But I doubt that’s going to happen. If we do lose, let’s show Short and Bain exactly how welcome they are and push through the sale of the club. It would cap off a remarkable week in the asylum that is Sunderland AFC.