After the Boxing Day draw against Bolton Wanderers FC, various groups of Sunderland fans – including the main representative fan body - issued a joint statement calling for the club to be sold immediately. Stating that “No-one knows the long-term plan for the club, and trust between the fans and the boardroom has eroded”, it went on to demand: “If there is a realistic offer on the table, he (Stewart Donald, chairman) must admit the enormity of the task and cut his losses.”
This statement was then backed up on BBC Radio by a representative of the groups, who declared that he expected the Board to agree to their demands, which had “not been made lightly”. Co-ordinated, ‘no turning back’ campaigns of this kind against owners are highly unusual at any club - particularly after 18 months.
Given these circumstances, and Stewart Donald’s sincere commitment on his arrival at Sunderland AFC that “I won’t outstay my welcome”, the Board feels that it has no option but to sell the club. That process has now commenced. Owing to confidentiality agreements, there will be no further updates until a preferred bidder is identified.
Mr Donald had met with the ‘Supporter Collective’ group of representative fans bodies (including some signatories to the December 27th demand) earlier that month, as part of the regular engagement programme undertaken by Sunderland AFC’s Board (minutes of which are available publicly). Mr Donald apologised for a poor run of results but shared his staff's confidence that first team form would improve due to two key factors - higher fitness levels as the new management team’s conditioning program bedded in; and the January transfer window, in which he was expecting to invest significantly. The meeting was friendly and constructive and no impression of significant levels of disquiet as to how the club is being run was received. A date for the next meeting was being set for mid-January.
Therefore, it was a matter of surprise to read a few days later - and without any warning - a statement demanding Mr Donald leave the club. Furthermore, the timing of the demand was not obviously conducive to the immediate improvement of the first team squad and as a result, the club’s chances of promotion.
Whilst progress on the pitch has been slower than all associated with Sunderland AFC would have liked, the club has become one of the very few in the EFL to be debt free and break even on an operational basis. With that stable base, the significant investment by FPP, and with the team now back in contention for promotion, the Board believes that Sunderland continues to head in the right direction.
Given the scale of the task on arriving at the club and the amount of hard work put in over the last 18 months, the current owners would have preferred more time to complete the job and fully implement the vision originally laid out. However, recent events indicate that is not what some fans wish for – and, as football supporters themselves, the Board understands that long-term success cannot be achieved by a disunited club.
Stewart Donald commented: “We would like to place on record our thanks for the wonderful support we have received from SAFC’s phenomenal supporters. We would also like to reassure those loyal fans that we are placing sufficient funds in the club to support the manager as he seeks to improve the first team in the next few weeks. Finally, I just ask that fans now unite to support the players and the coaching staff.”