Can you hear it? Can you feel it? You should, because that is the tangible sense the walls are avalanching in on everything around Sunderland. We are a long way beyond the beginning of the end.
Let’s not beat around the bush here, the club statement released on Tuesday was pretty distasteful whichever side of the fence you choose to park your arse on in the Stewart Donald in or out debate. It lacks substance and doesn’t particularly give off a very professional message to supporters about matters at the club. If anything, it smacks somewhat of a jibe at those opposing Donald, intent on his removal from his position at the club.
One thing the statement will do however is continue to pour a considerable amount of fuel onto the already burning fire between supporters who appear to be more and more divisive with one another since the social media protest following Boxing Day’s stalemate at home to Bolton Wanderers and following one win in two months. “The fanzines and fan groups don’t speak for me,” the general retort by those repelling the #DonaldOut campaign. But let me ask, can anybody be happy with the predicament at Sunderland, our football club, at this moment in time? The answer to that is a resounding no and anybody who claims otherwise… answers on a postcard please.
Before going any further I should point out that these are simply my views and not those of ALS as a collective; I am merely using a platform to share a point of view. To be quite honest, I don’t even know if I’m Donald in or Donald out or whatever other hashtag or trend you want to fawn over. If I was put on the spot and made to choose I would probably step into the Donald out pool because lets face it, in the last 12 months there isn’t a lot of things which have gone right – and by not going right I mean they have gone catastrophically wrong – the entire situation is a mess.
Consider some of the issues for example; the Josh Maja saga of this time last year. When does selling your top goal scorer, your main asset, in the January transfer window ever work? See Darren Bent, see Lewis Grabban as two of the club’s recent examples for an answer. Maja had been an ace in the pack for Jack Ross and single-handily converted a number of points in the first half of last season. Now I’m no accountant, nor am I savvy to what was going on in the boardroom at the time, but the decision to basically issue Maja an ultimatum of sign or be sold seems a tad naïve – given that he was almost our ‘Get Out Of League One Free’ card.
Having been informed by the owners the club had no financial issues and could make signings as and when Ross pleased, surely the better solution at that juncture would have been to keep Maja and let him fire us to promotion, of which I’m fairly sure he would have done considering some of those draws he may have turned into wins and worry about the contract situation in the summer? Even if he went to Bordeaux, or wherever on a free transfer in the summer, would that not have been acceptable if we were in the Championship? The cost of promotion may even have offset the majority of the fee? But money wasn’t an issue anyway, was it?
On the flipside, Donald did action the acquisition of Will Grigg and he certainly can’t be to blame for just how tragically that has turned out. On face value it seemed like an astute deal, albeit an inflated deal. But even then, there was an element of desperation to it. It was late, so late in the window Grigg himself was tucked up in bed before being jettisoned to Wearside. And how much did Ross want Grigg? Surely keeping Maja was the simplest solution?
And then came May and the reason this conversation, this article and everything that is happening currently is actually happening. Failure to gain promotion. Had that afternoon at Wembley gone our way for once then things would be much more amicable. Donald may have ridden off into the sunset after a job well done, he may still have been here, who knows. And I’d have no problem if that was Donald’s, and Charlie Methven’s, plan all along, however much they may resent such claims. If they came in, got the club promoted, and then sold it for a considerable profit then well done and thank you for your time.
Losing to Charlton in the Play-Off final however wasn’t in the playbook and not accounted for. Not only did it require revised plans and panic stations, it gave Donald an immediate decision to make in accordance with fan opinions; back Ross or sack Ross. I was content for Ross to stay under the pretence that he started this season with intent, that under the 10-game curfew he was being afforded there would be signs of promotion – not what had happened for the past six months. However, I also assumed Ross would have been backed a little bit more in the summer to plug the gaps from the club with the finest budget in the leagues history where again money was not necessarily an issue.
Of course, there were further potholes along the way throughout the summer with the club under constant takeover rumours causing a glaring lack of leadership amidst the confusion. The squad was weakened, not strengthened. The start was average at best. The club seemed to be rudderless again. The oil tanker which had been halted and turned was now taking on water once more and going with the current again.
Ross was, arguably, rightfully dismissed despite more than likely having his hands tied throughout the process. But then in came Phil Parkinson and perhaps the most significant reason for the crescendo we now find ourselves at. It’s not rewriting history to suggest Parkinson’s appointment had a lot in common with a lead balloon at a time where supporters, and the club, needed a boost. The subsequent run of two wins in 14 games did little to help matters and Parkinson, quite rightly, copped flack and calls for his head.
Donald’s stubbornness, or backing – whichever you prefer – over Parkinson is without doubt the straw which broke the camel’s back. To take the club from Play-Off contention to the bottom half of League One at Christmas was, and forever will be, unacceptable. Parkinson should have gone without doubt after the Bolton draw and as such the fanzines and fan groups reacted. In the week since action was taken there has been three positive performances and results… coincidence?
Now I don’t know the ins and the outs of the online protest, but I would imagine the decision to do so was not made lightly, nor was it made by just a smattering of opinions by those in charge of each outlet. This was gauged over general fan consensus. While not speaking for everyone, this will have been done in evidence of seemingly the majority of their audience pool.
This brings me back to Tuesday’s statement and how it seemingly points the finger at those accountable for the protest as well as being misleading in its context. “Given these circumstances, and Stewart Donald’s sincere commitment on his arrival at Sunderland AFC that “I won’t outstay my welcome”, the Board feels that it has no option but to sell the club,” the statement reads. The club has been up for sale for almost a year! This isn’t just a rational decision based upon a protest against Donald, this has been on-going for some time. Why claim otherwise?
“Campaigns of this kind against owners are highly unusual at any club, particularly after 18 months,” is another line from the statement and while it can be disputed, Donald and co didn’t really have time, the need for instant success was too great but Donald knew this when he bought it. Every week, every game and absolutely every season at this level is embarrassing for supporters. With the talk of available finances, 100 points totals, the best this and the best that, supporters have been led a little down the garden path in that promotion should have been a certainty. Instead the club has regressed, dangerously, to the point of action.
There have been a lot of things said to placate supporters over the past year, the examples I have touched upon in this piece merely scratch the surface, there are podcasts, meeting minutes, radio station interviews aplenty to make up your mind on how often Donald has stuck to his word or not. As little as last week, after the protest, Donald mentioned how the club will “absolutely strengthen” in January whereas Tuesday’s statement may set alarm bells ringing as to whether that will be the case or not when reading “the January transfer window, in which he was expecting to invest significantly.” Was being the key word. And while I hear the cries of “why would he invest if he’s leaving,” I believe if Donald still backs himself as the man then he should stand up for himself to prove as such.
Of course, it has not always been bad for Donald. His honeymoon period was just that; full of lust and admiration. The open dialogue was welcomed. The wave of optimism needed. The promises of pastures new clung onto because it’s the absolute hope we can’t stand, and the removal of bad apples in Didier Ndong, Papy Djilobodji and Jack Rodwell was commendable. But like any garden, things aren’t rosy all year around and when things haven’t necessarily being going to plan the honeymoon dialogue, optimism and promises have been shut down, extinguished and back-tracked upon a little too much for some. He hasn’t helped himself, even the most avid Donald supporter would agree.
Everybody just wants what is best for Sunderland, of that much there is no doubt. Contrary to what some media and or ex-players and managers may suggest, one of the best things about this football club is its support. The very fact that support is being split by something as controversial as opinions over ownership suggest that all is not well at the club and that something needs to happen.