If there’s one thing that is certain in football, it’s that you can never say you’re settled. At a very basic level as supporters you always want more. That contrasts starkly with the feeling of despondency when relegation, or double relegation in our case, feels like the end. A cup final defeat or a 5-4 home loss has you looking down into the abyss.
A few days later and you’re looking up at the table rather than down. That unsettled feeling is common to all teams, even the plastics, take Man City for instance. Through to the Champions League semi-finals and the quadruple is alive. Then the rule change recently introduced rears its head and VAR has people talking about their dreams unravelling. A few days later and they beat Spurs, the domestic treble is on. Football is a transient thing, seasons come and go and it’s either been good, bad or indifferent. As a long-suffering Sunderland fan indifference would be a blessing but success is what we always crave.
That craving for success is what creates the churn in football. In a very basic formula if the ambitions of fans are not matched by results then something needs to change. Perhaps it’s the fact that David Moyes signed a load of dross. Or perhaps it’s because Martin O’Neill played negative football. Or perhaps it’s because Ellis Short didn’t invest enough. Or perhaps it’s because Martin Bain is a... well you get the picture.
In my time supporting Sunderland I have seen too many managers come and go, each time ripping up the blueprint and starting from scratch. With each manager came a shopping list. With quick changes in management this leaves the squad bloated with players who no longer want to be there and who are no longer wanted but are still chipping away at the profit margins with weekly wages that would feed a family of season card holders for a year. That is precisely what got us into the mess in which we ended up. Ellis Short did spend money. That’s why Niall Quinn brought him in. We embraced the arrival of Ellis Short and there are photos of him in bars with Sunderland fans on preseason tours. His ALS FTM tie badge was a point of discussion and if we are honest, when he first arrived we were delighted. That’s really saying something too because he was taking over from Drumaville.
Drumaville were our saviours, a bunch of investors, largely Irish, came to our club and reignited a burning ember. With Niall Quinn as the poster boy they were on to a winner and our fan base increased. Extra flights arrived at Ponteland International Airport from Ireland on matchday and leprechaun hats were entirely, well maybe not entirely, acceptable on matchday. They appeared very affable chaps as well. I met John Hays on a flight to Düsseldorf once and he was just a normal SAFC fan, not affected by wealth. He was on his way to see Sunderland play Dortmund in a preseason. I was on my way to a very bad hangover. The fact is that Drumaville pulled us out of a very dark period.
There are some who want to airbrush the Murray era, I am not one of those I’m afraid. The Drumaville takeover was the new dawn for me after seeing the club decline. I am grateful to Murray for seeing the chance to build the Stadium of Light, I am bitter that he didn’t carry any history from Roker Park into the new stadium. Perhaps he wanted to forget about the protests against him. Perhaps the memories of the police closing in on Fulwell Enders 20 minutes after the match had finished were too much. Perhaps any recognition of the ground that had fans holding red cards aloft to try and get rid of him was something he didn’t want. Whatever the reason, he wiped out the memory of that ground when we moved to the SoL. That wasn’t the worst of it though. When we were promoted in 1990 football was very different. Significant investment would have made us challengers and who knows where we would be now. In my view that was our missed opportunity and following that season we healed scars with Elastoplasts. The Drumaville takeover was manna.
And then there is the Donald takeover. We have all read about the engagement, the change in mood, the lifting of the gloom. It’s a bit like Drumaville all over again, but with fan interaction The current owners weren’t the only bidders. Fulwell 73 had a go, but it wasn’t for them. Short did however take the opportunity to get them to make a programme to showcase the club. The O’Brien group were significantly down the path to taking over the club until the current crop showed their faces and Ellis Short favoured them. The due diligence for Drumaville took months and months. It was like knowing about your Christmas presents in July. The due diligence for the current owners took weeks and will have cost them in the long run.
Now there is another potential summer sale in the offing with SD looking to either sell up, or bring in major investment to take the club forward. More change. You can view that as a good thing if you like, because we now have people looking at the club as a good investment whereas Short had struggled for interested parties previously. Whatever happens though that constant click of the turnstiles continues. We cannot lose what we have built this season, the efforts from fanzines, podcasts and flag planters has to continue. If there is to be a sale, then I only hope that commitment is part of the sale and purchase agreement.
The earth is a world, the world is a ball
A ball in a game, with just a few rules and all
And just as I wonder at the beauty of it all
You go and drop it, and it breaks and falls
The Game: By Echo & The Bunnymen