How meeting Stewart Donald face-to-face convinced a sceptic that Sunderland can become a top-twenty European club
As a working-class lad, one who has spent most his life living in the post-industrial utopia that is Hendon, I have an extreme aversion to anyone with money. For this reason, I was sceptical when Stewart Donald purchased my beloved Sunderland. What on earth had possessed the multi-millionaire to wade into the Stadium of Light swamp? Surely, some ulterior motive was afoot.
These thoughts raced through my excited mind, as myself, the ALS gaffer and a member of the club’s staff stepped into one of the Black Cat House’s more dilapidated looking elevators. I was suddenly jerked back to reality. The elevator, you see, began to violently shake, dropping and rising at will. It was like something out of an episode of Casualty. I wondered whether we’d make it out alive. However, luck was on our side – our party of three exited, taking the stairs instead.
“That lift needs a bit of work,” joked the lass showing us down the corridor. “Fuck me,” I thought, “maintenance to the Black Cat House is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Anyway, Stewart welcomed us into his boardroom domain, he and my comrade began the interview and I live tweeted the fuck out of it. Three things immediately became clear.
First, the club’s new figureheads aren’t taking any prisoners. No-one is safe. Agents and players alike are being hung out to dry left right and centre, and rightly so. It doesn’t matter if you’re Paddy McNair, Margaret Byrne or Jack Rodwell, your actions will be made public.
And, once again, the behaviour of Sunderland’s over-paid, pampered prima donnas was laid bare by our apparently fearless leader. He reiterated the snippet that, barring Ethan Robson, every senior player had asked to leave. Moreover, Paddy McNair is refusing to play, and Donald suspects Lamine Kone’s agent going quiet in a sly attempt to force the club’s hand come deadline day
Mind, I don’t mind telling you, I could have cried tears of happiness when Donald explained that he had denied Rodwell a substantial loyalty bonus payment as punishment for his absence last season. Bravo, sir.
The ex-Oxford man holds the opinion that playing for Sunderland is a privilege, an honour. And that refreshing ethos, after the calamitous dealings of Ellis Short and his band of merry mercenaries, is most refreshing. This piss-taking party really does appear to be at an end.
Second, the guy genuinely has a love for the game. He talked openly about enjoying regular five-a-side matches, his pride at once being paid to play non-league, and hilariously scoffed at the suggestion of his business partner Charlie Methven’s supposed superior footballing ability. Above all, though, his desire to watch a winning team under his stewardship shone through.
On potentially sitting with fans, the 43-year-old ex-Eastleigh supremo explained: "My enjoyment from this (owning Sunderland) will be a Saturday afternoon. I love an away day. I always pay to go in, I'll have a burger and buy programme with my boys. My enjoyment comes from being with the fans, especially at away games."
Again, after the absenteeism of Short, this attitude was treacle for the ears.
Third, Donald understands what this club needs and what the fans desire. Majority opinion, for a long time, has been that the club criminally under-use, underestimate and under-appreciate the coaching prowess of former captain and club legend, Kevin Ball. And Bally’s new boss quite agreed. “I would envisage him (Ball) helping Paul Reid in the academy. We need him to utilise his strengths around coaching the academy. I see him heavily involved in the academy. He is Mr Sunderland, one of the most impressive things about Sunderland. He just gets it. he knows the direction we should be going in. All of what he said made sense, he has energy and enthusiasm. We have to harness that."
I really believe Donald – with his meticulous attention to the finer details, passion for the game and financial connections – can make good on Juan Sartori’s bold claim that Sunderland have the potential to one day become a top-twenty European club.
To those who scoff at the notion, I ask you this: what is the point of following football if you can’t let your imagination run away with you a little?