Peter Reid may be the light at end of tun­nel for Sun­der­land

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER - Michael Walker

Turn­stile 46, Sta­dium of Light, Sun­der­land, 7.40pm Tues­day: above the dual en­trance a red sign says £30. There is a queue each side, a dozen deep and grow­ing. Ad­mit­tedly most shuf­fling through hold pre-paid stubs from the of­fice across the car park where a “walk-up” ticket costs a fiver less.

Still, this is a scene: this shows there are peo­ple in Wear­side pre­pared to pay £25 or £30 to see Sun­der­land, 23rd in the Cham­pi­onship, against Bolton, 24th. They are pre­pared to pay a se­ri­ous sum to watch a team that is yet to win on the pitch on the other side of the turn­stile in 2017. This is a scene that, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, be­muses and in­trigues.

The first half has been painful for those who passed through, Bolton tak­ing the lead through a former New­cas­tle player, Sammy Ameobi, while Sun­der­land are slow and lack struc­ture and con­fi­dence. The mood sours.

There is an im­prove­ment in the sec­ond half and Paddy McNair leaves the bench to bring en­ergy and an equaliser. The young man from Antrim has been out for a year. He wants to get go­ing again.

At 9.40 the fi­nal whis­tle blows on a 3-3 draw. McNair’s goal means a point for Sun­der­land and it lifts them up a place to 22nd. But when man­ager Si­mon Grayson swivels to walk down the red tun­nel, it is for the last time. He has been in charge for only 18 matches but be­fore 10 o’clock, he is told he is no longer Sun­der­land man­ager. It is a bru­tal ter­mi­na­tion.

An old foot­ball joke about fail­ing teams in Sun­der­land colours is that the play­ers could not find a red shirt in an abat­toir. That is what the club has be­come for man­agers, seven signed and gone in un­der six years.

Grayson, a de­cent foot­ball man who played along­side Gary Speed in the Leeds United youth team and un­der Martin O’Neill at Le­ices­ter, who took Leeds out of League One as a man­ager and who was do­ing a fine job at Pre­ston un­til Sun­der­land lured him with prom­ises of what-might-be, de­served bet­ter. No mat­ter how cal­lous an in­dus­try, no one de­serves this abrupt treat­ment.

Ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity

It would be nice to think the non-foot­ball men who or­gan­ised it, El­lis Short, the owner and his chief ex­ec­u­tive Martin Bain, would re­flect and ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity. Un­for­tu­nately that tends not to be the way with board­room men. Board­room men point, foot­ball men leave.

Short has put money into Sun­der­land but he has presided over chaotic medi­ocrity. He has seen off Roy Keane, Steve Bruce, Niall Quinn and Martin O’Neill; he has ap­pointed Paolo Di Canio, Roberto De Fanti, Lee Conger­ton and Dick Ad­vo­caat. Ul­ti­mately he sanc­tioned the sign­ing of Jozy Alti­dore and Ricky Al­varez.

The one real suc­cess, Sam Al­lardyce, left for Eng­land. But that re­lieved Short of a row with Al­lardyce, who was con­sid­er­ing walk­ing away.

Of all the many bad misses of the Short era, this was a turn­ing point. As Eng­land hov­ered, Al­lardyce was at Hartle­pool for a pre-sea­son friendly al­ready mut­ter­ing about trans­fer rec­om­men­da­tions that were not ar­riv­ing. Had they been, he might have paused for thought.

Mo­men­tum was lost. This was only 16 months ago. Sun­der­land had just fin­ished the sea­son un­der Al­lardyce with three wins and three draws. They beat Chelsea and Manch­ester United and lost just two of their last 14 Pre­mier League matches.

The idea that Sun­der­land as a club is un­man­age­able is ex­posed by this run. This was a mo­ment when Short and his ad­vis­ers should have re­mem­bered a club is built around the team on the pitch and in the dugout.

Go back to the turn of the cen­tury when Peter Reid was in charge. Sun­der­land fin­ished sev­enth twice in a row with a back four of Chris Makin, Jody Crad­dock, Emer­son Thome and Michael Gray. What Reid did was man­age. He or­gan­ised and in­spired. He wanted to be man­ager of Sun­der­land and an av­er­age at­ten­dance of 45,000 was the re­sponse.

David Moyes, Al­lardyce’s suc­ces­sor, never gave the im­pres­sion he was de­lighted to be Sun­der­land man­ager. He still had the same play­ers as Al­lardyce but there was a col­lec­tive wilt­ing that was em­bar­rass­ing.

Long be­fore then, Short was us­ing the word “gru­elling” to de­scribe sea­son af­ter sea­son scratch­ing for Pre­mier League sur­vival. But the joy­less­ness stems from the top, from his de­ci­sion-mak­ing, or de­ci­sion-lurch­ing.

On Tues­day, Sun­der­land’s fail­ure to win means they equalled the English record of 19 home League games with­out a win. If they do not beat Millwall at the Sta­dium of Light in a fort­night, the record will be Sun­der­land’s alone.

Some will blame the home fans, say the team can­not func­tion in front of such de­mand­ing sup­port­ers. Those voices were not at turn­stile 46 on Tues­day see­ing fans hand over hard-earned notes, nor were they say­ing that when Lewis Grab­ban made it 2-1 and the noise was good.

‘Come on, Ten Pints’

Of course Sun­der­land sup­port­ers crit­i­cise, as all fans do – the man a few seats along shouted “Come on, Ten Pints” when­ever Dar­ron Gib­son was given the ball – but the club’s sup­port is a pos­i­tive, not a neg­a­tive.

The fans’ at­ti­tude, how­ever, as well as their num­bers, has be­come an is­sue to some, in­clud­ing them­selves. No one likes be­ing conned and when the club an­nounces at­ten­dances that do not cor­re­spond with the view in­side the sta­dium, they feel just as Arse­nal fans do.

It adds to an ir­ri­ta­tion, stoked al­ready by the ob­vi­ous fact that Sun­der­land’s squad con­tains play­ers who are un­der-per­form­ing. Ai­den McGeady and McNair were the ex­cep­tions on Tues­day. There is tal­ent here, but it is, like the club over­all, in freefall.

When the fi­nal whis­tle blows, there is a smat­ter­ing of boos, but not up­roar. There has been ef­fort shown.

But it does not pre­vent Grayson’s dis­missal. There has been one win in the Cham­pi­onship so far. League One is over the shoul­der.

The dis­mal run has not stopped every ticket be­ing sold for the away end at Mid­dles­brough on Sun­day. What they could do with is hope to val­i­date faith. Th­ese fans go as the sup­port of a dispir­ited team, rep­re­sent­ing a fail­ing club, placed on the mar­ket by a want-away owner. They are not the prob­lem.

Reid would be proud to be man­ager of Sun­der­land again, which is a start, an im­por­tant one.

As for Quinn, he is not busy in Ire­land pre­par­ing a buy-out as hap­pened be­fore; Dru­mav­ille feels a long time ago. But he has not given up on foot­ball and is rel­ish­ing play­ing for a lo­cal over-35s team. And he has not given up on Sun­der­land.

The idea that Sun­der­land as a club is un­man­age­able is ex­posed by this run. This was a mo­ment when Short and his ad­vi­sors should have re­mem­bered a club is built around the team on the pitch and in the dugout.


Sun­der­land’s Sta­dium of Light: Last Tues­day Sun­der­land’s fail­ure to beat Bolton means they equalled the English record of 19 home League games with­out a win and ul­ti­mately cost Si­mon Grayson his job af­ter only 18 matches in charge.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.