As we enter the Fourth Age of the SoL, with the Age of The Donald following the Ages of Murray, Drumaville, and Short, things are starting to look really interesting as far as bringing in more (bloody rich) investors on board, and we appear to have a new manager on his way, perhaps it’s time to take a look back at the last owner. Just to bring you back down to earth while you’re all happy and optimistic, like.
In simple terms, Ellis Short will probably (probably? Give me own heid a shake, man) be remembered as the most disliked owner in the club’s history, and with good reason. Bob Murray’s time might have been punctuated with protests about lack of investment on the playing side, but without him the Light would be lacking a Stadium, Academy, Foundation, and various other “ofs”. Basically, he left us with a home fit for the best. Drumaville gave us a good time and were there when we really became a Premier League team, but sort of faded away when the Irish Tiger lost its teeth, leaving us with a reputation and an appreciation in the wider football world. Then came Ellis Short who gave us… ten years in the Premier League, but, in short, left us with no foundations and precious little in the way of pride. The transition between Drumaville and Short, engineered by Niall Quinn, had the fans grinning like a mag being presented with a pastry product, as he was daftly rich and seemed the man to do what other loaded foreign people had done at other clubs. Above all, if Quinny thought he was OK, he was OK by us.
For the first couple of years, with Quinn as chairman, things went swimmingly by our standards. Then, in the autumn of 2011, Short replaced Quinn as chairman, but retained him in as Director of International Development, which turned out to be exactly what it was – a made-up bit of nonsense, as Quinn lasted only a few months before jacking in the job in February 2012. It’s glaringly obvious that since then, things have gone from bad to worse, as Great Escapes were followed by Greater Escapes and Even Greater Escapes, punctuated only by a crazy journey to Wembley in 2014, and culminating in us being where we are now.
Whatever you do think of Short, it isn’t that when he fell for Quinny’s sales patter he intended to lose the equivalent of the Mexican National Debt and leave his new club in arguably the worst position in its history. Even in the somewhat murky world of asset-stripping, hedge funding, and buying up ailing entities to turn them around and sell them at a profit, he must surely have realised that it wasn’t going to happen with a football club. Quinny would have told him that, but, when things started to go badly wrong, Quinny wasn’t there. Instead, non-football people were brought into positions of power that demanded football people. We appointed a director of football, Roberto di Fanti, who’d previously been an agent. We appointed Margaret Byrne as Chief Executive – undoubtedly a talented lawyer, but not a football person by any stretch of the imagination, a fact borne out by her handling of various situations on her watch. She’s now an agent, which brings yet more scorn on that profession. We paid, thanks to di Fanti, over the odds for players who simply weren’t up to scratch, and put them on long contracts, lining his pockets in the process. We relied too heavily on loan signings. Martin Bain was brought in to cut costs and make the club saleable, and it’s yet to be proved that his actions in any way helped the eventual Donald takeover. He had a thankless task, but the way he went about it did nothing to endear him to the fans –but for his salary, I’d happily be the pantomime villain at any club of your choice (apart from Sunderland, of course). He might have worked at other football clubs, but he clearly isn’t a football man as far as helping a club achieve success on the pitch.
Short’s steadfast refusal to speak to the media, or the fans, over the last couple of years meant that those fans were going to regard him with disdain and distrust. Just before that self-imposed silence, I shared a Tube carriage with him after Big Sam’s first game, at West Ham. He’d stormed out of the Executive Lounge after telling the one of the Hammer’s owners (I forget which) not to speak to him as he’d just sound like “a condescending asshole.” He said he was hurt that we’d lost, and he looked, and sounded, genuine when he said it. He didn’t have to talk to us, but he did, and he didn’t have to be so candid in his comments, but he was. How it went from that to two relegations he probably doesn’t know because, deep down, he wasn’t a football man, he put his trust in others who weren’t, and has suffered, as we have, for it.
Ultimately, it’s all Short’s fault, as he was the head honcho, the owner, and the decision maker who made the decisions to allow unqualified people to make vitally important decisions. Whether or not we believe his statement that he left the club in the best position he could (in the circumstances created by his actions) is up to the individual. He stuck to the Financial Fair Play rules to the letter, unlike many other owners, but still got it horribly wrong. We fans feel, quite justifiably, desperately sad, upset, and angry about where we are, but it hasn’t cost us millions and millions of pounds, or our personal reputations. Short has lost millions and millions of pounds/dollars, and his reputation in football, in football at least, is destroyed. SAFC have also lost our reputation, but, under the new regime, we have the chance to rebuild our reputation, while Short, almost certainly (and by choice), won’t have that chance.
I’m not asking you to feel sorry for Short, because I certainly don’t, but I do ask you to consider that he didn’t drop us in the clarts on purpose. Hopefully, his tenure will act as a warning to football clubs, including ourselves but excluding them up the road, to be careful what they wish for as far as rich owners go. Short is the perfect example of someone who can pass the Fit and Proper Person Test, but be absolutely rubbish at running a football club.