A football club run badly is a horrible thing to watch. Even when it isn’t your club it’s awful. The situation at Bury and Bolton gave me that ‘what if that happened to us’ sadness.
Fans have to stand up for their own club because no one else will. I don’t regret holding up a red card to Bob Murray at all. For the record, it was when we were facing relegation from (what is now) the Championship with a ground that was literally falling apart under a manager who would have looked more at home down on the allotments, not five years later as has been suggested. And, again, for the record, after the next home game, the chairman resigned, the manager was sacked, Peter Reid was appointed and the club had the best spell of results in my lifetime. I also don’t regret pleading for Ellis Short to appoint capable people in the board room, I still believe that, if he had, the direction of the club would have been very different but I never doubted that he was doing his best.
What is interesting as I look back at Short, Murray and, of course, St Niall, is that, through the good times of their ownership and the bad, there is one thing that I believe is true of them all. I believe their hearts were in the right place and I believe they viewed it as a sporting challenge for their own club (Bob Murray) or for the club they couldn’t help falling in love with (Quinn and Short).
When it comes to the current owners, I believe there were two motivations and neither of them were love of the club. First, there is a very simple moneymaking opportunity. All you have to do is acquire a club with no debt, a Premier League infrastructure, a spending power way in excess of competitors and tidy it up a bit. Get in a manager who’s on the up, sign a few players who’ve a record of winning in that division and you bounce straight back out and make a massive profit. Madrox bought the club for somewhere between £5m and £10m depending who you believe, they would easily have sold it in the Championship for £25m plus. It’s good business. Nearly.
The great shame is that, had that happened, they’d have left richer and as heroes of the hour for turning round the oil tanker, saving the day etc. I suspect the decisions over Maja’s contract and Lyle Taylor’s hotel room will haunt them forever but, anyway, that’s done, no point looking back.
The second reason I believe they were keen to buy it, was to stick two fingers up at their own club.
A club that they had tried to buy on more than one occasion and a club who had rejected their advances. Speaking to people in the Oxford area, there is an understanding that Donald bought Eastleigh to turn it into a club to rival Oxford. In the season prior to Bridle Insurance buying Eastleigh they were well positioned in Conference South while Oxford sat in the middle of League Two having just been promoted from the Conference. His offers to buy Oxford had been turned down, a subsequent offer with the backing of money from Juan Sartori was also rejected and so was a deal that was being put together by one of the founders of OxVox, a supporters group formed to ‘represent fans interests’ in the club and keep pressure on the owners after years of mismanagement by multiple owners of the club, one Charlie Methven. In its early days, OxVox was known as FOUL, Fighting for Oxford United’s Life.
To be fair to Methven, you can see why he was involved in a protest fans group and then subsequently the supporters groups. His club had been appallingly run by their owners. For example:
Oxford had a stadium which the owner had borrowed against, not with the resulting loan in the club, but rather in the company owned by the chairman.
Oxford had run down their youth set up so badly that Methven actually got involved on an unpaid basis to help the youth side of things and became a trustee of Oxford’s Youth and Community Trust.
Oxford were bought by someone who then restructured the debt and managed to personally profit from the deal at the expense of the club.
Oxford sold off their best players for reduced fees to keep cash flow moving including selling their star young striker midseason despite the manager wanting to keep him and, as a result, the club finished lower than anticipated.
You can see why, in a club where things like that happened, Charlie felt the need to protest, the need to campaign against the owners.
The Oxofrd fans went, in my opinion, far too far when they (not CM I should add) smashed up the chairman’s car and protested at his home.
But you know, we shouldn’t be too surprised, maybe they did it to their last five owners.
The Eastleigh project didn’t work. The club didn’t catch Oxford. Though, to be fair to Eastleigh, they’ve had a good last two years since Donald, Hill and Reid left the set up (for legal reasons, I am not linking the club’s recent success with the people leaving, or the fact that we’ve been disastrous since they arrived at our club).
Sartori, Methven and Donald never got to buy Oxford. The closest they came was when Charlie Methven was advising the owner of the club as a PR client who, following the advice of his PR man, considered selling and even considered doing a deal where he’d wipe the debt as part of handing the club over. Sounds strangely familiar.
The thing I find saddest and most annoying about our club’s current position isn’t that we were unsuccessfully used to make a quick buck. If it had worked, we’d all have been delighted. I’m not even that sad that we were used like a rebound fling when their true love rejected them. It’s that, having seen what happened at their own club, having known how that feels as a fan, having felt strongly enough about it to get involved and launch campaign groups, after all that, they seem to be doubling down on it at Sunderland and suggesting our behaviour, the same as their behaviour in a previous life, is outrageous or inappropriate.
If it was for money making reasons, walk away. And, if you leave with what you put in or even a little more, I wouldn’t flinch, good luck to you. You tried to make some big money, you failed, now walk away.
If it was to put one over on Oxford, it hasn’t worked. In the same way as Eastleigh have done better since you weren’t involved in any capacity, so have Oxford. Good luck to them in the playoffs. They’re the least objectionable of all four clubs in there.
If it was, as you’re now claiming, nothing more than a sporting challenge, accept that you lost the challenge. And accept that that wasn’t our fault. We turned up in huge numbers, we bought the tickets, we welcomed you and we stood by you well into the period where you were throwing the fans under the bus.
Any prospective owner reading this or watching Sunderland Til I Die will not see a group of fans who unreasonably turned on club owners, but rather a group who tried to welcome people who betrayed everything they had promised and treated fans disrespectfully. Fans who have done no more than the owners had done themselves as fans years earlier. Fans who applauded the previous owner at a recent game, still sing the name of the owner before that and acknowledge the incredible legacies of the owner before that.
I have nothing personally against any of the current owners. When I have spent time talking to them I have enjoyed their company. I genuinely hope that, one day, in a few years’ time, I can have a beer with them and look back at what could have been. But, for now, I ask them to look in the mirror, be honest, remember what it was like to be a fan not an owner, accept where we are and realise that the only way this can end positively is for them to accept their own mistakes, stop spreading lies about letters, the fans and fan groups and take a fair price, the price they paid (with their own money) and walk away.
We need to move forward as a club and, after everything they have said and done, that journey cannot include the current owners.