It’s a funny old game. Jimmy Greaves’ catchphrase was used to sum up moments of acute disappointment, irony and success. It’s wrong on two counts though if you’re a Sunderland fan. The first is that it’s not particularly funny being where we are and suffering blow after blow. Secondly, it’s not a game. Recent press releases, podcasts and radio shows from our owners have created a bit of a disconnect to say the least. The men who came in and talked about players who bought into the area and got the fans increasingly seem to be underestimating the sense of responsibility we, as fans, have for the club. They also seem to be misleading in their belief of transparency and mutuality in their relationship with the fans.
Shortly after Charlie Methven appeared as a guest on the Roker Report Podcast stating that the investment was a private matter and would have no financial impact on Sunderland AFC now or in the future a charge against the assets of Sunderland AFC was lodged at Companies House. Not only was this not an investment by FPP on the face of it, it also absolutely had a financial impact on Sunderland AFC both in the present and, potentially in the future.
It’s probably best to start this with what we know rather than what we have been told. The truth is we know very little. We can speculate but we know little. A loan has been made to Madrox. That loan has been paid over to Sunderland AFC as a capital injection. Sunderland AFC will not have to repay the money to either Madrox or FPP. These are inescapable facts regardless of bluster from the owners or speculation from the fans. We also know that, somehow, as a result of FPP making the loan to Madrox they have security over certain Sunderland AFC assets or, per clause 27 of the agreement the loan can be exchanged for equity. I.e. the shares. I.e. FPP can turn the loan into ownership of the club.
Now we turn to things we don’t know. We don’t know when the loan is due to be repaid. We don’t know if there are side agreements between Madrox and FPP. We don’t know whether the conversion of the loan to equity means all the equity or some of it. Anything we assume on the back of this is speculation and is something we should probably not be worried too much about because ultimately the loan has been provided by men who make money out of money for a living and they’re pretty good at it.
Back to Charlie his podcast appearance misled and confused a few of us but was there truth in what he said? Well, partly. Any transactions between Madrox and FPP are entirely theirs to know about, as much as we would like to know the detail, they are private and there is little to say they have to be disclosed to you or I. The fact that there is no financial connection to Sunderland is accurate in the short term, long term potentially not. Say for instance the loan is repaid by Madrox. No financial connection to Sunderland really beyond their assets being used as collateral. Which is a fairly big point. I mean if your partner took out a loan using your house as collateral, I’m pretty sure you would say that you had a financial connection to the loan. If they default and FPP decide owning a football club isn’t something they fancy... These are minor details, however.
Why is this important? Haven’t Sunderland got a cash injection? Yes. If Madrox default will we have American billionaires on the board. Probably. So, what’s the issue? Integrity. That’s the top and bottom of it in my view. Pouring over legalities and finances is useful in the sense that it largely spells out facts. Words tend to be more fluid and flexible. In that one podcast and the subsequent revelation of a charge that was legally required to be lodged with Companies House something unravelled for me. Now many of us, myself included, have doubted the spin machine but that one moment swayed me indefinitely. Don’t get me wrong, I will like nothing more than for people to point at this in 12 months’ time and accuse me of being overly cautious at best. However, this was an inconsistency too far.
Then came Stewart Donald’s turn. I have some sympathy for Donald after these events, he had a mammoth task to turn the fan base around. He was on fine form on the BBC Newcastle Talksport show. He talked about FPP taking control of Madrox in case of default, that appears to be true from what we know. Apparently either him or Sartori could have done it themselves but decided not to fix the lifts because they wanted a group who were “globally reputable” with an interest in bringing benefit “to the whole region.” I want to believe that. Who doesn’t? A group of billionaires thinking “let’s make Sunderland class!” With Dell involved maybe we could have our own Silicon Pally. It’s words though and you know how I now feel about those.
Donald did confirm that a full takeover had been discussed, contrary to others saying it was never a takeover, but denied that had fallen through because of price haggling.
Donald and Methven have resurrected a bit of the love for the club in me and many others. They have listened to fans and tried to bring fans on board with it all. It’s hard not to get swept away by that and it’s equally hard not to be a sceptic about it.
Personally, the past few days have made me doubt them. Not their motives so much as their methods. The contradictions make me wonder if they think we’re mugs. Just give us the facts lads. Save the rousing speeches for when the quality on the pitch is lifting the fans. It’s not a game to us.