The meeting held between the club and supporters’ groups has received a lot of immediate comment on social media. I thought it might be useful to go through it and highlight some of the questions it raises. I have covered the financial side of the club in a separate article so none of those discussions are included here.
I was asked before the meeting why I thought it was being held. While I was hopeful it was to be a positive step forwards with positive news of the future, I feared that it would be to blame fans and fan groups for the lack of investment and to try and stop the excellent work of the fans groups. Their job, for the avoidance of doubt, is to represent the fans. The recent surveys being carried out by the Echo and RAWA will help the groups and the club understand exactly how the fans feel and then work together to move forwards.
A very common and effective PR trick is to highlight to people claiming to be working together that they shouldn’t trust the other people they’re working with. Setting one against the other while highlighting to the wider membership of those groups that their committees aren’t really doing their jobs properly is one of the most efficient ways of dividing and conquering. I was worried that was one of the goals of the meeting. It was therefore disappointing but not surprising to read:
‘RAWA choose not to do this but aligned themselves with an agenda.’
‘SD said the BLC have been supportive (whilst being critical where necessary), whereas some fans groups seem hell bent on an agenda.’
‘the RAWA’s agenda is ‘I’m taking the money’’
‘SD commented that RAWA has a responsibility to challenge these negative assumptions.’
‘not acting like a responsible fan group’
‘RAWA telling members they are attending a meeting with the club was a problem. As Roker Rapport had tweeted the time on the meeting and threats arrived soon after’
The point of these messages is clear. It is to set people against the RAWA. If RAWA were not acting like a responsible fan group they wouldn’t have asked their members for thoughts ahead of the meeting. They wouldn’t have polled them to get the fans thoughts. A democratically elected body representing fans is something every club should have. They should be honest about what the fans are telling them and try to maximise the number of fans involved in that. They should remain independent of the club at all times. From what I’ve seen, that is exactly what RAWA have done to date. Don’t fall for this cheap trick. Don’t let the board divide the fans.
Where are the buyers?
In the meeting it is reported that:
- SD said that potential buyers were being put off by coronavirus and the current uncertainty.
- TS said that fans were putting potential buyers off.
- SD is trying to contact groups reported in the media.
- SD said he can only sell if there is a buyer.
- TS was contacted yesterday about a potential buyer.
Donald also said that ‘he had turned the club into one that attracts investment from a reputable US investor, and this gives credibility in the US market.’ This seems an extraordinary thing to say when he bought the club from a reputable US investor but, let’s leave that to one side.
It seems there are conversations with interested parties except when there are no interested parties and the blame for their lack of interest is the behaviour of the fans. I can only go on the messages we received at the time from Mark Campbell and FPP who are, as far as I’m aware, the only publicly ‘outed’ possible investors. Both said they were drawn to the club because of the fans, the amazing fan base and the passion showed by the fans in Sunderland ‘Til I Die. When talking about the value of the club, Donald mentions in the meeting the high number of fans and large fan base.
It seems even within the meeting, they can’t decide if we are an asset or a liability.
One of the accusations often thrown by Donald is that he has received abuse and he and his family feel unsafe. This is mentioned multiple times in the write up of the meeting. He has described a number of incidents which sound horrific relating to his family and his house, incidents where I would hope prosecution would follow, life-long bans from grounds, naming and shaming of those involved etc. It is slightly bizarre that, as far as we can see, no evidence has ever been produced that these incidents actually happened. It seems from Donald’s explanations that the police have never been involved and no action ever taken. Why that would be is not for me to conclude but what I would say is that any threats or actual abuse of any club employee, owner, director or family member would be utterly unacceptable and I’m sure all fans groups will happily call out any specific behaviour if the club can provide any information about the incidents.
Donald was also keen in the meeting to raise the good work he has done at the club. This section of the meeting reminded me of some of the press conferences of another Donald. Trump is well known for asking journalists why they focus on the negative. It is always evidence of a person who needs the story to be about him and a person who craves the credit of people all around him. As Donald says himself in the meeting, ‘he came here for fun, but it is not fun anymore’ – believe me, supporting Sunderland is rarely fun.
For the avoidance of doubt, Stewart Donald has, he said, given £100,000 to the Foundation of Light, £10,000 to a foodbank and 40 football kits to local teams. Whether this was before he furloughed almost all club staff reducing their wages by 20% while claiming to still be cash rich personally is unclear.
He was also keen to point out that he was doing a good job and the board and ‘all the staff at the club’ felt that way. Perhaps I’ve been unlucky with the people I’ve spoken to who work at the club but I’m yet to speak to one who think he is doing a good job. In fact, a number would argue he isn’t doing a job at all.
We then finally get to look at the real message the board are trying to share with the following comments shining through.
‘JR asked all groups present to ask its members to give the club some breathing space’
‘Fans need to get behind the team next season.’
‘SD said he will do anything the fans want including resigning as chairman.’
‘The club has £0.00 income but significant out goings that are set to increase with a return to football.’
The board are desperate for the fans to start buying tickets and merchandise and to ‘re-engage’ with the club.
I’m desperate for the owners to repay the money they’ve borrowed from the club and sell to a reputable long-term investor with a clear plan to develop the club.
Perhaps it’ll be time for fans to re-engage once that’s happened. Perhaps the fans (if the poll results agree and it is the overall view of fans) should take action now to refuse to engage financially with the club until those things have happened. Would this prove that the power of the fans is something potential investors should consider?
Yes. Our commitment to our club, our desire to get the club back to higher levels and to fill the stadium, wearing merchandise and the associated appeal of the club to businesses and sponsorship should be considered by investors. It sounds quite appealing to me. Will we just let you drag our club downwards after you take over through mismanagement and questionable financial practices? No we won’t. If that’s your plan, please do not apply.
In the meeting, TS confronted the increased fan pressure and ‘asked himself what was the nearest to this he had seen to this abuse? It was against Bob Murray, but that protest consisted of a red card display.
That campaign resulted in Murray resigning, the manager being sacked and a new manager taking us from almost relegation to what is now League One to two successive seventh places in the Premier League. I’d have thought that, as a true fan, Tom would support action that could get us to that position. Sadly, it seems Tom has chosen to sit on the wrong side of the table.