Article by Ben Mummery – Follow @Benjiboo_42
OK, wow! What a week so far for Sunderland, and it’s still only Wednesday!
We’ve been taken over, it’s official – Ellis Short has sold the club! (I genuinely wasn’t sure if I ever thought I’d write that sentence.
The last 48 hours have been a complete whirlwind, during which time we’ve seen a new owner arrive on Wearside and deliver more press comms in one afternoon than Ellis Short managed in ten whole years. There’s been so much to digest between a press conference with the club and a fantastic podcast with fanzine “Roker Report” with incoming SAFC chairman Stewart Donald and his business partner Charlie Methven, that a lot of Sunderland fans are still left with their heads spinning, wondering just exactly what is going on – and I include myself in that!
So, let’s take a minute and try to break down the bare bones of just what exactly has happened in the last few days and where we are at as things stand:
• Ellis Short has sold the football club to Stewart Donald, for a fee believed to be in the region of £40M.
• Donald spent the day on Friday 18th at EFL headquarters in a meeting in which he satisfied the necessary senior league officials of his competence and ability to take over the club.
• Short and Donald have come to an agreement between them that will see the club’s debt being wiped, meaning SAFC is now completely debt free.
• Having previously heard talk of a consortium takeover being led by Donald, it now transpires that this is not the case, and Donald is the majority shareholder, with Charles Methvin as his junior partner, however Donald has not ruled out involvement in the near future of a conglomerate of foreign investors..
• With regards rumours of Short receiving any Premier League or Championship parachute payments due in to SAFC, Donald has confirmed that this is the case, however this was used as insurance as part of the deal and is considered standard practice.
Alright, now I’m not a financial expert, but I think I’ve covered pretty much the main points of the actual take over part there.
Donald and Methvin held an official presser with the club at 4pm on Monday which lasted roughly 45 minutes, during which they outlined the basics of the take over and answered press questions relating to high level finances, and their intentions regarding the team and football activities this season. Key facts from this release included their intentions to appoint a manager within the next seven days, and the transfer budget for the upcoming campaign which Donald described as “hefty”.
Then it was off to see Roker Report to record a podcast of approximately an hour, during which many more details were discussed in a considerably more relaxed and informal manner.
The lads from Roker Report went into more depth about the finances, the stadium, academy, players, staff, and all things relating to fan connection with the club.
Both Methven and Donald spoke candidly, and were as open as could be at this early stage, only avoiding questions directly relating to staff jobs and appointments. Stopping short of mentioning actual names, both men went into detail of their vision and intentions for not only this season but hopefully the future they intend to build for the club.
Stewart Donald comes across as a man who’s spent a lot of time around football clubs, and seems to want to establish a certain way of thinking around Sunderland that has definitely slipped away from the club of late. He spoke passionately about a real “club” feel, how a football club should be a place for the fans, where the fans feel like they’re really part of the furniture – like it’s “theirs”.
Mentioning that the Stadium seems to have grown a bit “tired”, Charlie Methven spoke of the need to re-connect with the fans in bringing the Stadium of Light back to being a place where fans felt at home, not as though they’re visitors at a large corporate organisation (Couldn’t agree more, Charlie!).
The feel from the comms was definitely one of positivity, there seemed to be a real desire to impress upon fans that things are going to change at Sunderland from now on.
Charles Methven eluded to SAFC having in recent years become known as a place where “people come to take the piss” – difficult to imagine anybody putting this any better, and definitely what Sunderland fans feel and have felt about many on and off field appointments in recent years!
Too many players have come to the club in the knowledge that playing for Sunderland comes with high pay packets and low expectations. Stewart Donald has made it plain that this will be a thing of the past, and from now on only players who truly want to be at Sunderland will be allowed the privilege of being able to play for Sunderland.
There has been a definite attempt made to assure fans that the new owners will be careful with money from now on, rather than repeat the carelessness of the last five to ten years that has been cash thrown at mediocre players, and staff who have done very little to deserve their salaries.
With regards the squad for the upcoming League 1 season, the message seemed to be very clear that the new owners want the club to start focusing their attention towards competing on the pitch. Donald was keen to make it very clear that the players currently under contract with Sunderland will all be spoken to in person (as opposed to speaking to their agents), in an effort to gauge just what their intentions are this season. Those who do not wish to remain at the club will be moved on and replaced, however he was very eager to stress that the players we have are our players and remain so until otherwise decided by the club.
When asked if our emerging young players will play a large part in our campaign this season, the answer was a resounding “yes”. Players such as McNair, Gooch, Watmore, Honeyman etc, were all mentioned as being players the owners were very keen to have stay and be a part of the club’s success.
Both were also keen to stress that finances will definitely be available should they be required for player acquisitions this season, with Stewart Donald stressing that our war chest would be one he imagines definitely to be the largest in league 1, and one that many Championship teams would be glad to have.
In summary, both Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven come across as real “football men”. Men who’ve always had the game at heart, and appreciate what it’s like to be part of a football club.
They seemed very keen to in a way, give the club back to the fans. Perhaps in part to both men being lifetime football fans themselves, and having spent a short time here can already see the distance that has grown between the club and the supporters. Charlie Methven described Ellis Short as an “absent owner”, and stressed that they themselves will be anything but.
If both men live up to their word, there are definitely exciting times ahead for the supporters, which if nothing else, will bring bums back to their seats at the SOL!
The events that unfolded have been a massive breath of fresh air for all Sunderland supporters, many of whom like me, lament only that it’s taken our demise to League 1 to be the catalyst for this type of seismic change. However, the fact remains now that the new owners have proved they can talk the talk, they must now put up or shut up!
First order of duty is a first team manager, a role that could make or break our season in one fell swoop if not properly considered.
Players will begin reporting back for pre-season duties as of mid-June, and we need a squad that can get us out of this division at the first time of asking. The management, led by the owner(s), must assemble a group of players who are hungry and ready to hit the ground running, galvanized and unified before the first game of the campaign – no lean feat!
There are huge obstacles still ahead for the club, but the events of the last 48 hours have definitely breathed some much needed fresh life into the football club, and has our fans genuinely excited to see what we can achieve together this season.
If nothing else, that’s a start!