We Sunderland fans live in strange times, with the uncertainty over the future of our football club mirrored and magnified by the uncertainty of the future of the nation in the grip of the Covid pandemic. We’re desperate for someone to believe in, but at the same time finding it desperately hard to believe anyone on any subject, particularly our football club. We’ve just lost Ethan Robson to Blackpool, and while he might only have fourteen games and one goal to his name, he’s a local Lad, looked a decent player, at the age of 23 he’d looked a prospect for this division after injuries had cleared up. Joining him on the way out was chief sports scientist Paul Walsh, off to Stoke to team up with Michael O’Neill to resurrect the Norn Irn partnership. On the surface these don’t appear to be massively significant, but in the bigger picture represent yet another couple of teeth marks as the base of the club is nibbled away.
So many names have been bandied about with regards to the takeover that I’m finding it hard to process any SAFC-related information and apply any credibility to it, so when photos appeared on social media of one of these names, Bill Storey, outside the SoL sporting a rather natty “farewell to Roker” home shirt as well as his trademark ZZ Top beard, it took a while for it to pique my interest. Then came the news that he was to speak on Radio Hosrsepuncher’s Total Sport to Nick Barnes and Simon Pryde. Better give that a listen, I, and presumably a good number of fellow Mackems, thought – so we did. Nick Barnes straight up asked him to clear up the mystery over his personal background and why he’s interested in us - but what did we actually learn?
Firstly, he can talk a glass eye to sleep under water, as he made his replies quickly, eloquently, and seemingly without drawing breath. He’s also a 41-year-old West Ham fan with an accent to match, who visited Roker at the time of Gabbiadini (who happened to be on the show) and Bracewell, which means that he was travelling with the Hammers at a very early age, and had visited the Sol several times and been impressed by our fans – as he’s been with our travelling support to the East End. He stated that he’s a massive football fan, and that anyone who knows about football knows that Sunderland are one of the biggest clubs in Europe, never mind the UK, that we’ve won the League six times, full marks for research, have one of the most passionate, knowledgeable fanbases in the game, have produced a conveyor belt of talent over the last few decades, and are a club of enormous prestige – all of which makes him “incredulous” that we’re “languishing in League One” – you and me both, marra.
Several of his closest friends are Sunderland fans, and when talking about what was happening with the club, his interest was sparked. He spoke to Ellis Short through a mutual friend and what he heard encouraged him. He reckoned Short had his heart in the right place, but like many people who’ve been involved in football, he’d had people around him who didn’t give him the best advice and that he squandered a lot of money. I’m with you on that one.
He spoke of the right plan and funding realising our almost unlimited potential, and that there are very few clubs that passionate football fans would get excited about, and Sunderland are, to say the least, a sleeping giant. As a huge football fan, and a long-term admirer of the club, he sees this as an unbelievable opportunity to take a club forward –and he’s tremendously excited about it.
When asked why the “period of exclusivity” which was recently announced (and which, it can be confirmed, does not include Mark Campbell) did not include him, Bill/William said that he stood in a very strong position in that he’d put the best bid on the table, he’d got massive backing from four of the biggest names in Europe, let alone Britain, in terms of business figures, two of whom have a track record in sport and all of whom we’ll have heard of, but that he can’t name because he’s signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement. We’ll be given those names shortly, but the club are aware who they are, and that they’re world class business people including some of the biggest names in sport. He’s put a bid on the table that’s by far the best, he’s got the best plan, the best funding, and the best overall package to take the club forward. He’s talking from the stance of a passionate football supporter, not a finance suit, some spreadsheet Johnny who’s looking to take the club over and flip it on for a profit. He believes we have a unique potential and are a natural Premier League club, and, with the right management and funding, the inevitable rise back there is there for the taking. He has a fully funded plan. The nucleus of the playing squad should come from the local area, and it’s a shame that certain players are being let go for financial reasons. The fans need to see passion, to see that we are well funded, and run by people who know the game.
While saying that he couldn’t comment directly on the current ownership, he did say that there was a lot of politics going on around the club, and that he knows who the other interested parties are.
He told us several times that he’d grown his Rich Energy business from scratch to a value of over £100 million in five years, and that past references to his having only £581 in the bank referred to the back account of one of fifteen businesses he has interests in from a set of accounts form 2017. The fact that Red Bull, by far the biggest name in that particular business “went for him”, he sees as a compliment. He believes he’ll be wholly vindicated over the Formula One fiasco, which occurred when some investors tried to steal the business and did a deal with Haas behind his back. “This story will soon be revealed as risible nonsense.”
I’m not sure exactly what he meant when he said that he’s sceptical about Corona Virus, but he reckons we can rise very quickly with a new plan, and his is a ten-year job, with 85% of the money coming from the four significant backers. He says that when you’re wrong you can’t be strong, and it’s important that people are aware of the strong bid rather than doing it all in private. “Malfeasance flourishes in the shadows”, and the fans need to be aware that there is a serious, well-funded bid. There are people out there who want to nick the club, not put anything in, and who aren’t football people and have no interest in club’s future.
He says he’s exactly the opposite, and that’s the point. His backers are business people who obviously want to see capital appreciation, and he’ll ensure that by providing success on the pitch. His main objective is to take the club out of the doldrums and towards the pinnacle of British football, and the money will follow. Those people who chase the money seldom make much, but those who follow something passionately and support it are the ones who actually make the money even though money wasn’t the primary objective. Sunderland can be one of the leading clubs in England, and that’s an exciting objective for him. Success on the field and increasing the club’s value are intrinsically linked, and while he understands any scepticism from us fans, saying he’d be sceptical in our shoes, he believes we won’t be sceptical for long when things take off.
When asked “If your deal’s the best, why’s it not happened?” He said he’s ready to do the deal, he’s here, he’s fully-funded, with fantastic backers, so the board need to put up or shut up. They’re not looking to nick the club, but to pay a fair price and invest a lot thereafter. The purchase price is one thing, but what’s more important is significant resource to follow – one of the things at the moment is that there are “certain predators who have charges on the club, who I think are a block to progress.. who are not football people, are not interested in Sunderland, and are… financial locusts, and we’re offering to pay them off so they can go off into the sunset and enjoy their Pina Coladas.”
Bill’s happy to be scrutinised and to discuss his plans, and as soon as the NDA comes to an end, he can reveal who everybody is, and everybody who has doubted his funding will be revealed as utterly clueless. He didn’t manage a direct answer when asked why folks were unable to buy his energy drink, as part of a question on his background.
We, the fans, are great, and knowledgeable.
The club’s great (“phenomenal”, actually) and are a “top seven” club, that needs the injection of excitement that he’ll bring.
The academy’s great.
The stadium’s great.
His backers are blue-chip, world class, big hitters.
His plan is a decade plan, and it’s fully-funded.
The club belongs in the Premier League and he’ll get us there sooner rather than later.
“The Uruguayan” owns 20% of the club but has shown no interest for two years, and not put a penny in.
He’s only interested in Sunderland and he’d be desperately disappointed if his bid fails.
He’s identified five players he can get into the club pretty quickly, and says there’s always a way, within the rules, to optimise what the club can do with regards to the salary cap.
He very obviously believes in himself and his plan – but do we? He can certainly talk the talk, and did his best to make us fans feel good about ourselves, and had a few not very thinly-veiled swipes at the current owners, after which he rocked up to the Roker Hotel at the same time as Jim Rodwell.
Giving us what we want to hear, or someone with a genuine and feasible plan for our future? Have a listen and make up your own mind.
Listen to the full Total Sport interview here