Sunderland: A club killed by mismanagement
5 months ago, 13 Jan 17:28
Twenty years ago this week, Sunderland won 1-0 away at Manchester City in the First Division to extend their unbeaten league run to 16 matches with a goal by – who else? – Kevin Phillips. City would go on to be relegated to the third tier at the end of that season, while Sunderland would lose in the play-off final on penalties to Charlton. The following season, they broke the record points total in the winning the title. It’s fair to say a lot has changed since. You can use such historical markers to put into focus the extraordinary decline of this club, but there enough reminders all around Wearside. That 1997/98 season was Sunderland’s first in the Stadium of Light, where the red seats have now been badly faded by sunshine and rain. The club announced plans to replace them with shiny new red ones in 2016, but the money soon ran out and the discolouration remains. It is a pretty spectacular metaphor. Having lost their Premier League status after ten straight campaigns in the top flight, Sunderland are sleep-walking their way to a second consecutive relegation. That would cause a return to the third tier for only the second time in the club’s Football League history, a run stretching back to 1890. They could even be the first team since Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1985 to finish bottom of English football’s top two divisions in consecutive seasons. At times like these, it is easy to think that despair can only breed despair, and that continued deterioration is inevitable. That was certainly the view of former managers Simon Grayson and Gus Poyet. “I can’t think of too many people in football at this moment who could do a better job than I am,” said Grayson shortly before he was sacked having won one league match in charge. Poyet was a little more poetic and a lot more damning. “There’s something inside Sunderland, something at its very core,” he told Sid Lowe in an interview for the Guardian. “It’s hard to explain but there’s a way of life, something deep down, that makes it difficult to fulfil its potential.” The argument of inevitability can act as an undeserved defence, however, and allow blame to be avoided. The suggestion that a pathway is predetermined suggests that nothing could have been done to alter it. If Sunderland are indeed sliding down to new nadirs, the walls have been greased by mismanagement and neglect. Ellis Short acquired a controlling stake in Sunderland in September 2008 and took over a team that sat eighth in the Premier League. His former business associates described him as “slick” and “hugely impressive”, and were quoted as being impressed by his sustainable plan for the club. Short has overseen a period of vast revenue increase amongst Premier League clubs, including broadcasting deals that have risen almost exponentially, yet Sunderland’s last annual accounts revealed a loss of £110.4m. That requires a level of incompetence that merits standing ovation. Short’s ...
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