Amid desperate times for Sunderland, Black Cats fan Michael Graham delivers a brutal verdict on those who have allowed it to happen.
It’s easy to associate Sunderland with dark days. In fact, Sunderland fans have seen so many dark days you’d forgive us for thinking we’d slipped into a black hole.
Think back just one year, though, one tiny little year, and there was nothing but sunshine on the horizon for the Black Cats.
Sam Allardyce had just led them to a comfortable survival on the back of four months – yes, four months – of consistently good form.
The club were finally making good moves in the transfer market, and boasted one of the absolute best prospects in world football in Jordan Pickford coming through their ranks. We went away that summer to settle down and watch the European Championships in genuinely good spirits and with a lot of real optimism for the future.
But we didn’t get our bright future. In fact, pretty much since the day the 2015/16 season finished, we’ve had nothing but misery brought about by a flagrant abuse of our football club.
Allardyce left, of course. That wasn’t the club’s fault. England came calling, Allardyce wanted it, and off he went. Of course, he went slowly, because the FA didn’t really give much of a stuff about the impact of fixing their failures would have on little old Sunderland, and David Moyes quickly arrived.
And Moyes is an easy person to blame for the disgrace that followed. Let’s make no bones about it, he was atrocious from day one on Wearside.
Even if we put aside the dreadful results and football, which is a sentence no football fan should ever have to say, the former Everton manager somehow managed to show even less respect for Sunderland than the FA did, and just to rub it in he did it whilst picking up an enormous wage from the club.
The 22nd of August it was – two… two games into the season that Moyes slumped in front of TV cameras and told the world what amounted to the equivalent of ‘Sunderland are always sh*t, so why should I bother?’
‘What would you say to fans who are fearing another relegation battle, David,’ was the question:
“Well, they would probably be right because that’s where they’ve been every other year for the last four years, so why would it suddenly change?
“I think it will be, I don’t think you can hide the facts, that will be the case, yes. People will be flat because they are hoping that something is going to dramatically change – it can’t dramatically change, it can’t.”
For all intents and purposes, that was day two of David Moyes’ employment as the manager of a football club. Day two.
Gifted with the opportunity by a press who were generally far kinder to him than he could have ever possibly deserved to galvanise the club with defiance and hope, he washed his hands of it (just how often do you hear a manager call his own club “they”, anyway?) and surrendered the pride and heart of a football club he was supposed to be leading.
It’s easy, too, to blame owner Ellis Short, and there is no question that he has made big mistakes and has huge regrets, regardless of his heart always being in the right place. Ask him yourself and he’ll tell you the same.
But Short and Moyes only tell part of the story. Believe it of not, there is a man at Sunderland who has had an even bigger ‘mare than both of them put together this season.
Martin Bain arrived at Sunderland just before Moyes’ appointment. Under his watch, Sunderland have lurched from one embarrassment to another with literally nothing in between.
Transfer windows were, generally, a disaster, even for Sunderland. Two transfer windows came and two went with the club completely failing to spend money on a striker to help, or even compliment, Jermain Defoe. Sunderland finished the season with a miniscule 29 goals in the Premier League – over half of them coming from Defoe.
There was the sanctioning of a mid-season ‘team-bonding’ trip for the squad to a sub-zero temperature New York. Fair enough, you may be thinking. Most clubs send their squads on a winter break if they can.
However, whilst Sunderland’s rabble of millionaire of time-wasters and leeches were swanning it up in the Big Apple on a glorified stag do on the club’s dime, back home there was a swath of redundancies sweeping through the offices.
To put it another way, while the players who disgrace the club were burning its money on holiday, office staff, many of whom had been there for years and relied on the club for their only income, were paying the price for their failures.
Relegation was, inevitably, swift and painful, and yet the club still somehow conspired to make fans even more embarrassed – which, given the state of everything else they’ve touched this year, may actually be the club’s only truly remarkable achievement all year.
As if relegation, weekly surrenders and regular sermons telling us what an apparently inherently hopeless case we are from our supposed leader and chief were not enough, someone at the club decided that we were actually no better than to willingly crawl up John Terry’s backside.
Still, at least we can console ourselves with the little silver lining that relegation offers, right? You know, that little chink of light at the end of the tunnel that promises a fresh start and hope?
No, think again! Not Sunderland. We get four weeks of nothing followed by a few days that were cram packed with the unveiling of an atrocious new kit that claims to honour the club’s history whilst actually removing red and white strips from half of it, selling our best player, and being subjected to a savage public rejection from a manager currently plying his trade in Scottish football.
You can say what you want about running a football club and I know it’s not as easy as it looks. I get that. But ultimately, those charged with it only really have one real job to absolutely nail: Put a football team on the pitch.
As things stand, seven weeks after relegation was confirmed, four weeks after Moyes’ resignation, and two weeks until preseason training is due to commence, Sunderland, inside the club, have no manager, no assistant manager (yes, they’ve got rid of him too), and barely any players.
Outside the club though, within the fanbase, there are some even more crucial things missing too, eroded away by weeks of inactivity that looks an awful lot like wilful neglect: Hope, and any faith whatsoever that anything even remotely positive at all is even vaguely on the horizon.
Welcome to Sunderland.