First impressions are lasting impressions.
We Sunderland folks have had a lot of first impressions to deal with in the last couple of seasons, but probably not so many as in the last few weeks. We’ve probably become a bit cynical about them, to be perfectly honest, as they’ve generally turned out to be a poor indicator of what’s followed. However (you knew there was going to be a “however, didn’t you?) I think we have a different set to consider now.
Stewart Donald, who when first touted as a possible buyer, saw us searching the web to check up on his past exploits. What did we find? Hands-on, rags to riches, speaks as he finds, doesn’t mess about. Charlie Methven, who first made contact with ALS to see what we expected of them and to tell us what they expected of us. Eton and Oxford, friends in very high places, former Telegraph journalist who was the union rep, background polar opposite of Stewart. Both, however, appeared to know their football, and the pair can’t have failed to be impressed and heartened by their experience at the Wolves game.
Since then, they’ve said all the right things, and our overall first impression of them (if a three-week-old experience can still be described as a first impression) is very positive. Partly because we fans desperately want it to be, but mostly because it just is.
Then the new manager. Again, we knew precious little about him apart from the fact that he was awarded the Manager of the Year title after last season and that he’d played for Hartlepool for a season. A fairly low-key playing career compared to some of our recent gaffers, and almost certainly the least known. Since his appointment, secured on a rather more structured and successful holiday interruption than last summer’s ultimately embarrassing harassment of Derek McInnes, he’s given, as Charlie and Stewart did, an impressive first press conference, in which he outlined his philosophy.
Never mind the transfer kitty, he sees his challenge is “to find players who can make the club better…if I can’t I’ll get another one.” Sounds simple, because it is, and after years of big names failing to do that, we appreciate that sort of honesty and pragmatic approach. He’s already smiled more times than Moyes did in his entire reign, and likewise has shown more enthusiasm in 24 hours. Happy manager, happy players, happy fans. Again, sounds simple because it is, and creates another positive first impression.
It’s very early days, and I appreciate that we fans have been desperate to have a change of regime and mind-set at our club so have been quick to pick the take this new and energetic bunch to our hearts. For the first time in ages we have big changes from the top down-over. We’ve had the new Executive Director and the new owner talking to fans, taking part in Podcasts run by fans, and taking part in the local radio phone-in to make their plans known. They’ve been to the match, they’ve shaken the hands that were thrust at them, and they smiled while they were doing it. They’ve knocked back an offer for one of our top players, showing intent to give the manager the best to work with. They’ve given us memorable quotes – “The piss-taking party stops now” – and they’ve wasted no time in appointing a manager to fit their philosophy. They issued a challenge to the fans to back them, resulting in queues at the ticket office over the Bank Holiday as we responded and took out season tickets. They old bloke in Sainsbury’s café in Scarborough on Tuesday with the Hup Holland jacket and scarf (I assume he’s Dutch) pointed at the newspaper article about this and said to the folks on the next table (in a Dutch accent, another clue) “they’ve just been relegated twice, and look at this…” The new manager has done the Podcast thing as well, seemingly within hours of taking the job.
Overall first impression of the people in charge? They want to be part of SAFC, they understand what it means to be a fan, they’re engaging the fans, and they want to make us feel appreciated and more part of the club. Oh, and Charlie said something a bit derogatory about them up the road, which always helps. Cynics might say this all seems too good to be true, but we’ll take it at face value as just being very good.
Without getting too carried away (always a temptation given past events), they’ve done things the way most of us would have chosen to do it.
That’s a positive, then.