CHANGES have been rung at all levels in the Sunderland Club this season and the reconstituted “team” now moves to the starting line for the task of commanding progress in the effort to discard a somewhat tarnished image and emerge once again as a power in the land.
Their inheritance is a mixture of good and bad. The response to their attempt to carve out a brighter future will be influenced more by what they do than what they say. And the judgement will come from the hard core of supporters who have never deserted them... and the vastly bigger section waiting in the wings to be attracted back into the fold.
Responsibility falls upon the youngest board of directors in the club’s history and through them, upon newly-appointed manager, Mr Bob Stokoe, who took up the reins on Wednesday and is now hurrying through a crash programme to familiarize himself with the club’s playing assets and to decide how best to apply them.
It is no mean responsibility, for on the administrative side there are financial problems to be resolved and at playing level there is a challenging starting point of eight games without a win and a perilous position in the league table.
The big question is how quickly can they push forward from here on, how smoothly can they switch to a new formula on the one hand and the fresh flow of ideas which must inevitably follow a change of control on the other.
It is encouraging to find that both tasks are being undertaken with a high degree of confidence and there is a firmly-held belief that the long-awaited swing towards an era of success is about to begin.
There was clear indication of the board’s readiness to provide backing for the future when club chairman, Mr Keith Collings, questioned at a midweek Press conference, said that money would be available to buy players if Mr Stokoe required it.
He also said that too much play had been made on the club’s current liabilities without taking into consideration the major assets consisting of the well-equipped Roker Park stadium which they owned, and the comprehensive training complex at Washington New Town, which equals the best in the country.
I understand that details will shortly be made available of a new formula to break the grip imposed by a financial situation which has been moving progressively nearer to a stanglehold for too long.
All these assurances come as welcome proof that a hard-working board has its priorities in the right order and that action may soon be speaking louder than words.
Most of their discussions take place behind closed doors and the details are not available for comment, but the prospect that their endless round of meetings will be rewarded must give a degree of satisfaction.
Though their activities have an immediate bearing upon the situation, there is an even greater urgency in the task which confronts Mr Stokoe, who will want a full appraisal of playing strengths and weakness.
Apart from all the qualities which he will be applying to his job, it will be everyone’s wish that he has managed to bring a little luck with him, for Sunderland have known little enough of that in recent season.
It could be a happy omen that he has at least one thing going for him right from the start, with home games lined up for all three sides. “This is very pleasing indeed,” he told me “I’ll probably to able to see every professional we’ve got in competitive action in the space of five days. It couldn’t be better.
Following this afternoon’s home game against Burnley, the youth team will be at home to Hull City in the Northern Intermediate League Challenge Cup on Monday night and the Reserves will be at home to Barnsley Reserves on Wednesday night.
He has already worked through two training sessions with his players, had long and helpful talks with them, and on Thursday night received board approval of his reorganisation of duties for the control and selection of the minor sides.
He will be bringing a trainer-coach of his own choice to the club, which will make up the staff to full strength for the first time since the departure of Ian MacFarlane two years ago.
No names have yet been mentioned, but there have ben discussions and he hopes to have everything fixed up within a week.
“Billy Elliott and Ray Yeoman will both be staying on with the club,” he said, “and they will have special responsibilities. Until a new appointment is made, Mr Elliott will be assisting me with the first team. Afterwards, he will have sole responsibility under me, for the second team and he will be selecting his side. Because the Reserves play most of their games in midweek, he will be able to do a lot of valuable work at weekends, scouting and vetting opposition.
“Ray Yeoman will be in charge of the youth team with the same responsibilities.”
This is an arrangement which can work well because the Elliott-Yeoman combination has been handling the coaching side for two years and they are well qualified to judge the capabilities of the players under their control.
Their knowledge of playing strengths will prove to be of the greatest help during the interim period while Mr Stokoe takes a closer look and arrives at his own assessments.
How good are Sunderland and how good can they become? These are things which Mr Stokoe must find out for himself. He brought with him the recollection of an August game at Bloomfield Road in which Sunderland forced a 0-0 draw and said: “Apart from Wolves, they are the best team we have seen there this season.”
The way ahead is in his hands, through, for the moment, he must be more concerned with the immediate task of getting over to the players his message of how the revival job is to be tackled.
“I have been too long in the game to set targets” he said. “We will be taking each game as it comes and I am confident that things will go well.
“Words can come very easily, and we can talk about ambitions and all kind of things. But everything depends on the players and they are the people upon whom we will be depending on success.”
His forthright approach to the job invites confidence and from what they have seen of him in action up to now the Sunderland directors must be convinced that they have assured themselves of continuity of professional experience to carry on with the talk of building upon a highly promising foundation.
Story taken from the Football Echo on December 2 1972.