How to get your head around Sunderland Association Football Club
Many have tried to understand the Mackems and how their club is run, few have succeeded.
It’s fair to say Sunderland have had a hard time of it lately. ‘Lately’ being the past forty years.
It’s incredible to think they have won the first division six times in their history, albeit all those times were before the war (the fifth title grabbed in 1913). There was a brief period in the early 2000s where they showed glimmers of respectability and managed to finish seventh twice. Quite astonishingly, 46,000 Mackems would turn up every week to cheer on Kevin Phillips, Niall Quinn, Thomas Sorensen and Michael Gray. Such was the calibre of their most successful team since 1973, while we were chasing the premier league title.
1973 was the year when they upset all the odds and won the FA cup in a final against the mighty Leeds. To celebrate, they mocked up a coffin for Leeds United that still resonates in the memory of Leeds fans. Quite why a club would do that is beyond me. Imagine telling the fans then, what would happen over the next 45 years? They’d wish it was their coffin.
All football fans have felt the sick sense of humiliation, even the Man City neophytes, when the catalogue of failures and unwanted losing records becomes too much. But no one set of fans has been as humiliated as the Mackems. Not one. Not Portsmouth, Coventry City, Swindon Town or even Doncaster Rovers.
What other fans have seen their team set a record for fewest number of points in a season, then seen that team set a new record three years later? And that was before Ellis Short took over and the fun really began. Sunderland have not reached the magic 40 points mark in the last five seasons. Hang on, make that six seasons, the last being in the Championship. How is that even possible?
To underline quite what a failed state Sunderland are, they made a profit of just £5 million in 2006, and have lost £170 million since then. Not recording a profit once in 12 years and counting.
Many in the dark place point the finger at Ellis Short and his seemingly trigger-happy firing of managers in his time. But they’ve had good or even great managers in that time! Martin O’Neill, Dick Advocaat, Sam Allardyce (though I hate to admit it) and David Moyes have proven records of success. But none of them wanted to stay for various reasons that had nothing to do with the owner. Those he fired were fired with good reason as they squandered all their TV revenue on mediocre players who lost their inflated value.
The problem with the blame game at Sunderland is that there are so many places where the blame lies. I’d certainly put Adam Johnson on the list. He should have been a golden player, a local boy done good and an England international regular. Now he’s in jail and there are no star players from the local area in that team. The last star player they had was Defoe, and he couldn’t wait to leave.
This might be the difference between both clubs. We had talismans like Keegan, Beardsley, Waddle, Gascoigne and Shearer. They had Michael Gray and Kevin Ball. So in 1992 when we were on the brink of falling into the third division for the first time in our history, we had the former European footballer of the year Kevin Keegan come and manage. We found hope again. It was a similar story when we got relegated, because we had hope. Sunderland are just hopeless.
So it’s in that context that winning six in a row against the team up the road becomes a significantly-sized deal. When your crumbs of comfort are scattered so sparsely you cling to them. But the fans, just as they did after they beat Leeds, went too far.
They celebrated too wildly when we went down (for the record, they didn’t relegate us. We were relegated by a poor decision by a linesman when Sergio Aguero scored while offside. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and the signs, planes, banter etc. stuck in the craw. It wasn’t just banter either, it was more insidious than that. It was sadistic somehow. Almost like they were trying to kick us as hard as they could when we were down.
I’d like to pretend I’m not obsessed with Sunderland, or that I’m healthily interested in their goings on. But I am obsessed and it’s because of events in 2016. The fact is, we had one manager who left Barcelona to join us in the recent past and another who left Real Madrid and then came to manage us, played in Europe and beat some of the great teams, had 51,000 fans coming in the Championship. And in 23 years of supporting Newcastle I’ve never despised Sunderland like I do now.
The news has come in that Short is out and he’s cancelled their debt. This means they’re in the third division and playing Fleetwood Town with a pot of 26 million quid. They could bounce back and do a Leicester or a Wolves. But I feel confident that they won’t because…Sunderland.
Whether it’s because players don’t want to move there, the lack of an airport, the pronunciation of ‘whose keys are these?’ or the pink seats, Sunderland will carry on their tradition of abject failure.
And I can’t wait to watch it.