Sunderland lost 2-1 to Burton Albion this April, thus confirming their relegation to League One. The 2018/19 season will see the team play in the third tier of English football for the first time since 1988. The loyal fans had seen their club slowly destroyed by the lethal combination of terrible ownership and their various incompetent managerial appointments.
Arguably, the beginning of this slow downward spiral began with the resignation of former player Niall Quinn in February 2012. Quinn led the takeover of the club in 2006 as the leader of the Drumaville Consortium. This group then persuaded Irish-American businessman Ellis Short to buy the club in 2009. Short appointed Steve Bruce as manager, who led Sunderland to a 10th place finish- their highest top-flight finish for a decade. Short then replaced Quinn as chairman in 2011, sacking Bruce and appointing the Irish Martin O’Neill; and thus began the deterioration of Sunderland AFC.
Quinn left the club with immediate effect in February 2012. O’Neill was sacked in March 2013, leaving the club sitting one point above the relegation zone with seven games remaining and enjoying a winless streak of eight games. The Italian Paulo Di Canio was appointed the following day, prompting the resignation of our Vice Chairman due to Di Canio’s political statements.
While the Di Canio era may have been short, it is my belief that this is a principal reason for the future plight of the club. Di Canio helped Sunderland to safety with one game to spare, defeating Newcastle in the process. The following transfer window, however, still gives me nightmares to this day. The sheer amount of dead wood brought in by Di Canio is simply astounding.
Only two players signed in this window remain on the Sunderland roster at the time of writing. An overwhelming majority of the remainder were colossal wastes of money. The costly signings of Jozy Altidore, Liam Bridcutt and Ignacio Scocco stand out as being especially awful. Di Canio’s free transfers enjoyed similar success. El Hadji Ba? Cabral? Colossal wastes of time.
Nevertheless, let’s continue on our journey into this increasingly painful ordeal. After unsurprisingly causing friction with many players, Di Canio was sacked six games into the new season. The Gus Poyet era followed, resulting in an enjoyable trip to Wembley (where we lost 3-1 to Manchester City) and yet another great escape from relegation.
Despite this, after another terrible start to the season, Poyet was replaced by Dick Advocaat, who, you guessed it, saved us from relegation once again. Advocaat resigned after the first eight games of the 2015/16 season after toying with retirement in the summer. Sunderland appointed seasoned Premier League manager Sam Allardyce as his replacement. Allardyce quickly became a fan-favourite, securing our Premier League status for a further year in the process.
Sunderland’s demise continues
Here’s when things start to go downhill. The FA stole Allardyce for England, leaving us without a manager for a large majority of the summer transfer window. Sunderland eventually appointed David Moyes, who essentially had all the dressing-room presence of a wet hand-towel.
Moyes guided Sunderland to the worst start to a Premier League campaign of any team, taking two points from the opening ten games. Sunderland confirmed their relegation as the side finished the season with 24 points. Happy days.
The next man chosen after Moyes’ resignation was the incompetent but well-mannered Simon Grayson. He was sacked after a poor run of form, leaving Sunderland lingering in the relegation zone. See the pattern here? Within a year, Sunderland had extraordinarily transitioned from the bottom of the Premier League to the bottom of the Championship.
Miraculously, Wales manager Chris Coleman agreed to take control of this mess, and made some promising January transfers. Despite this, Coleman was not able to prevent the second bottom-placed finish of the club within two years. Hello, League One.
Three factors in particular stand out in relation to the demise of this club. Ellis Short needs to take some responsibility, due to his seemingly disinterested attitude towards the club, along with his terrible managerial appointments. These managers are also a prime reason for the fate of the club- in my opinion, the aforementioned Di Canio appointment crippled the club for a large period.
Finally, the players themselves are in no way blameless, with several key figures showing a marked lack of passion. I’ll need another article to fully encapsulate these.
In short, the fall of Sunderland AFC took place slowly over a large period of years. The new ownership, spearheaded by Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven, will be aiming to vastly improve on these mistakes made by the previous owners, with young manager Jack Ross looking to bring a new era of stability and prosperity.
As season ticket sales rise to more than twenty-thousand, perhaps the Stadium of Light will become a fortress once again.