The Graham Cummins column: Why Sunderland Til I Die is essential viewing

The Graham Cummins column: Why Sunderland Til I Die is essential viewing
The Sunderland flag flying high at a recent game. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA Wire.

IT’S not easy owning a football club.

Owners can’t please everyone no matter how much they try. Everyone has different ways of how a football club should and shouldn’t be run. There are two sides to football. 

The playing side and the business side. It’s difficult to find the right balance between the two. To make sure the club is both successful on and off the pitch.

Again, probably like most of you, I have been searching for my football fix and recently I viewed the second series of Sunderland Til I Die documentary.

As a player, you don’t fully understand how a football club runs. While board members are worried about how to keep the club surviving successful, players only have to worry about turning up to training and matches.

Sure, players always discuss how the club should be run and how they would do things differently if they were in charge but players don’t understand the true financial struggle owners face.

The documentary allowed me to gain more knowledge about what happens at the very top in clubs and while I admire some of the methods shown by the people in charge of Sunderland Football Club, there were a lot of actions I disagree with.

New beginnings at any football club are always exciting times. I know from my own experiences that when joining a new club, it fills me with hope and optimism.

I can imagine it’s the same for managers and after watching the documentary, it is obviously the same for owners.

However, that optimism and hope, more often than not, fade away and the harsh reality of football becomes apparent: that the only guarantee in football are the lows.

At the beginning of the documentary, Sunderland have just suffered back-to-back relegations and find themselves playing in the third-tier of English football. The club is also struggling financially.

Then Sunderland manager Roy Keane heading out onto the pitch back in 2007. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer
Then Sunderland manager Roy Keane heading out onto the pitch back in 2007. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

Instead of budgeting for games against Manchester United or Liverpool, where they could easily sell out matches, they now have to try and convince supporters that coming to watch Sunderland against Accrington Stanley, is worth fans spending their hard-earned money.

Yet, there is light at the end of a dark tunnel for Sunderland as Stuart Donald and his sidekick Charlie Methven believe they can be the club’s knights in shining armour.

Believing you can do something and then actually carrying it out are two completely different things.

They seem surprised when reviewing the club’s accounts at just how bad things really are financially but surely, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise if Donald had carried out the proper due diligence before purchasing the club.

Donald seems like the type of character who has a lot of wealth. I had never heard of him before he purchased Sunderland but now millions of people know who Donald is.

He looks like a man out of his depth. He is an excellent businessman and he did manage to reduce the club’s debt but from the playing side of things, he acted like a fan owning a football club.

He got emotionally invested with the fans and tried to portray himself as one of the Sunderland supporters. I love his enthusiasm but he needs to know the line between being an owner and a fan.

I don’t like how he goes and stands in with the supporters to watch some matches. He is only doing it to score brownie points with the fans but he should be more concerned about being chairman of the club.

When he was in with supporters, you can be sure they were criticising some of the Sunderland players and telling him who they should and shouldn’t keep. If he really enjoyed standing in with supporters, why isn’t he doing it every game and not just the odd one or two?

I notice he was made sure he sat in the corporate box when the team played in Wembley, he wasn’t giving up that luxury, whereas Bristol Rovers hospitality probably isn’t as nice as Wembley, so he decided that was a good game to give the corporate box a skip and show the fans he’s one of them.

Players are always told that no matter what they do or where they are, that they are always representing the club and the same rule should apply for owners.

You don’t see John W Henry, Liverpool owner, sitting in the Kop with the Liverpool fans having a pint because he knows even though he may like to do it.

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