A Love Supreme’s Tom Lynn takes a look back at a summer of change on Wearside…
Revolution: "A forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system."
The initial takeover of Sunderland AFC by Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven was not a forcible one, it was a business transaction agreed with then owner, Ellis Short, but since it was concluded there has certainly been a revolution of unprecedented proportions within the context of the history of our club.
A new system was needed after the most demoralising and negative two seasons imaginable which resulted in successive relegations, a scenario that had arguably been coming SAFC's way for some time, and one that resulted in many supporters turning their back on a consistently failing football team as the matchday experience basically became one of misery and disenchantment.
The quiet trudge home over a silent Wearmouth Bridge after yet another defeat, the forlorn looks on the faces of fans young and old, the empty pubs as people headed straight home instead of stopping for a drink to discuss the game and socialise with friends, not watching football on the TV and ignoring the back pages of the papers, and hardly giving social media a second look as apathy became the norm.
A historically famous institution was dying on its feet. The evidence was frightening and depressing in equal measure.
The prospect of third-tier football seemed to be the final straw, even for long standing, hardcore followers. Until, that is, the whirlwind, out of the blue arrival of Donald and Methven, two Oxford United supporters who had been heavily involved with their local club behind the scenes as well as on the terraces.
The duo immediately set out their stall by highlighting that they already had a plan set out for SAFC, one that included prudent financial planning and appointing the right manager who would oversee a far more coherent transfer strategy and develop young players via an excellent academy, and to communicate with the fan base and involve them in club policy and decision making wherever feasible.
After much speculation suggesting that the former Oxford and current Sheffield United gaffer Chris Wilder would end up at the SoL, Jack Ross, a relatively unknown manager who had just led St Mirren to the Scottish Championship title and was named 2017-18 Scottish PFA Manger of the Year ahead of the expected victor, Celtic's Brendan Rodgers, was appointed as the new Sunderland boss.
Charlie Methven said prior to Ross being officially unveiled, that in his interview, ‘Jack was so impressive and is very intelligent’.
Appointing a lean, hungry, ambitious young manager is the singular most important thing that the new owners, who now include the Uruguayan entrepreneur Juan Sartori in their ranks, have done.
Improving supporter relations by speaking with them at every opportunity at games home and away and kindly visiting fans who are unwell at home even, involving the fanzines in media output, replacing the pink seats that metaphorically reflected the decay of SAFC in recent years and such like is fantastic, but ultimately the mood of everyone who has SAFC at heart is determined by the results of the first team on the pitch.
Get that right and it helps everything else fall into place – that is the mood thermometer.
Ross, whose former St. Mirren Chief Executive Tony Fitzpatrick said of him on his departure, ‘he has eclipsed what Sir Alex Ferguson achieved at this club in the 1970s. When he arrived, we were bottom of the league, but he galvanised both the football club, despite having to sell key players at times, and the whole community. I see the same traits in Jack as I did with the young Sir Alex when I skippered his team’.
Ross has done a brilliant job in a short space of time. His philosophy is based on what his team can do – how they defend, press, counter and switch the play – as opposed to obsessing about the opposition.
In a lifetime of following this mad, beautiful and historical institution, I've never known so much positive movement in a short space of time. The irony is, if we had not been demoted to third tier football, it probably would not have happened.
Viva La Revolution!