OPINION: ‘Sunderland’s hierarchy is an absolute shambles’

Sunderland’s loyal cohort of fans have been continuously let down, not only by managers and players, but also by decisions made at board level too.

Ellis Short has made multiple flawed appointments at and must take his share of the responsibility for his glaring mistakes. The actions of Margaret Byrne and Martin Bain – both installed by the elusive American – have left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans and have contributed to a general lack of positivity around the club.

Decisions made by the club’s bigwigs in recent years have essentially bred the conditions for Sunderland’s most recent sh*tstorm of a season which has seen our side relegated from the Premier League after a ten-year spell in the big time.

Sunderland v Manchester City - Premier League
The loyal fans have been continuously let down. 
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Margaret Byrne is a prime example of a member of the Sunderland board who has let our beloved club down in a big way. She was aware of the damning evidence that lead to Adam Johnson’s conviction for child sex abuse, yet she chose to completely mislead Sunderland fans into believing the club knew him to be innocent and permitted Johnson to play. Essentially, she made a mockery of the our loyal support and, in turn, damaged the club’s integrity.

Her punishment for such a grotesque error of judgment was to be compensated handsomely, a figure revealed upon the public release of the club’s accounts last month – this whilst fans in an extremely economically challenged area of the country pump revenue into the club year on year through ticket sales and merchandise. Byrne accepted full responsibility in the gross mishandling of the Johnson situation and signed a confidentiality agreement which makes one wonder what other shady dealings occur between the directors in the annuls of the Stadium of Light.

Byrne also explained that chairman Ellis Short had been aware only of the ‘broad nature’ of the allegations against Johnson and ‘not the detail I was personally privy to.’ Byrne allowed Short off the hook so to speak – whilst simultaneously complying to keep her mouth shut as to avoid any further PR disasters.

Take stock of the fee Byrne received and the circumstances which led to her leaving the club – bearing in mind Sunderland’s debt at this point time was around £140m, and with such wonderful financial acumen from Ellis Short, it’s no wonder Sunderland are in the mire. Short must shoulder his share of the blame.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Pre-Season FriendlyPhoto by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

But the buck doesn’t stop with Byrne and Short. Sunderland’s new chief executive, Martin Bain, hasn’t done much to endear himself to supporters either.

While survival was still possible, Bain fostered a defeatist attitude by announcing that staff at the training ground and the Stadium of Light that redundancies were imminent. Large numbers of staff were offered the option to take voluntary redundancies via email.

Smooth from a man who reportedly netted somewhere in the region of £630,000 during his time at Glasgow Rangers FC. Obviously, one must acknowledge that Bain’s instruction to reduce debt came directly from Short; however, one must question the integrity and morality of a man that chooses to carry out orders of redundancies whist receiving such a fat pay cheque.

The distressing news came in the week where Sunderland’s under-performing players were sent on an all-expenses paid ‘training trip’ to New York. Another PR disaster, which exposed the club’s hierarchy as being totally out of touch with the community in which the clubs exists. A community that, in the same week as Bain’s announcements, turned out to the tune of ten-thousand to watch their millionaire heroes in an open training session at the Stadium of Light – not to mention the eighteen-thousand spectators that turned up to see Sunderland’s Under 23’s in their European final later that same season.

The fans deserve so much more.

The New York debacle becomes an even bigger farce when you consider Sunderland only managed to muster one win since the trip. Realistically, it must have cost a small fortune to fly twenty-two players and multiple staff to America, including expenses for training facilities among other things. The whole situation makes one question the business acumen of the man in charge of our club.

Maybe if the club hadn’t made such a mess of the Johnson situation, or had perhaps refrained from a transatlantic jolly, then the money used to buy Byrne’s silence and a glorified knees up could have been used to keep on the ground-level Sunderland AFC workers.

You know, the ones responsible for the excellent day-to-day running of our club.

It must also be noted that the culmination of the proposed staff redundancies would make little difference to Sunderland’s £140m debt, and these workers are likely to have families to support. They won’t have the luxury of a Byrne-esque payment to comfort them when they find themselves out of work in the name of streamlining a heaping pile of financial sh*te.

Sunderland v Burnley - Premier League
Ironic – Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Some sections of Sunderland’s support have suggested rather flippantly, that Sunderland should ‘sack the players’ as to allow said redundancies to be cancelled. Although this view is somewhat unrealistic and populist, we cannot blame these fans for their frustration and anger. Any genuine Sunderland fan that seeks to patronise this view does not understand the history of the community they claim to be part of.

The recent actions of the club’s hierarchy make one, at times, somewhat uncomfortable to be a Sunderland fan and makes it extremely difficult for fans to buy into the clubs cries of ‘Unity is Strength’ and ‘Keep the Faith’.
All in all, Sunderland’s off-field failings have been just as farcical as the pathetic situation on the pitch. Despite Moyes’ sacking buoying many fans, one cannot see Sunderland’s situation improving away from the football field any time soon. And, as usual, it’s the fans that must bear the burden.
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