Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A: Mark Campbell, Bailey Wright and the League One restart date under the spotlight

While the League One season may have come to an early end, the news doesn't stop at the Stadium of Light – where there remain a number of unresolved issues.

Wednesday, 15th July 2020, 12:30 pm

From ongoing uncertainty over the club’s ownership to concerns over transfer plans, supporters have plenty of questions about the current state of play at Sunderland AFC.

Here, our Sunderland AFC writer Phil Smith answers your burning questions – which supporters submitted via our breaking news WhatsApp service and social media:

Q: Mark Campbell’s name has been brought up again. What’s happening?

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Phil Smith answers your burning questions on the Sunderland AFC takeover and transfer front

It’s a very strange one.

The collapse of the deal was so damaging last time around that my assumption was that would be the end of that.

It’s also fair to say that it leaves all who saw how that developed with major reservations about the capacity to do a deal and take the club forward.

However, it’s abundantly clear that he is very keen to get into football and that he still sees Sunderland as an opportunity to do exactly that.

The club’s view is that they cannot comment having previously signed an NDA (last year).

There is a good deal of scepticism and that’s worth noting, but I can also understand why that isn’t overly reassuring for supporters who are hugely concerned about the way the club is headed.

Particularly given that Stewart Donald said himself last summer that Campbell was not the man to take Sunderland on (which raised the very obvious Q of why has this not gone away?)

We’ve said it a lot and it’s worth saying again, it’s time for change at Sunderland but it is absolutely imperative that the sale brings about a period of clarity, security and stability.

Everybody is concerned about where we are headed, and the club could do more to put fans in the picture properly.

Q: What is with the delay to announcing a new date for the season? With the meeting being pushed back to the 24th it seems the only date possible now is September 12th.

Yes, the overwhelming consensus seems to be that a date towards the end of August is unrealistic.

Even if a date is agreed on the 24th of this month, as you mention, that will leave clubs with a lot of work to do.

They will need to bring staff and players back off furlough, get training grounds ready for all the requirements of the new world we’re living in, and given the amount of time since the last games, managers are certain to demand a five-week pre-season period at the very least.

There have been some suggestions and discussions that the league season could start on September 12th, but that there could be some form of cup action in the weeks previous.

That might be a sensible way of getting round both the scheduling and logistical issues of getting all the fixtures in, whilst ensuring clubs can gear up for the new season properly (the Scottish lower leagues do a similar thing).

The wait is frustrating for everyone.

Clubs, players, fans.

Everyone needs that restart date so they can begin really stepping up preparations. If we’ve learned anything from the last six months, though, it’s that the myriad of interests means resolutions are never speedy.

Q: Does Stewart Donald still want to be involved with the club after the sale?

This is one of the many questions where I think fans are due an update.

Donald was due to remain at the club in some capacity if the takeover of either Mark Campbell or the FPP group had gone through.

It had been quite clear therefore that the hope was to sell a majority shareholding, but to retain some presence and influence.

Where Donald and the fellow owners now stand isn’t so clear, particularly given Donald’s comments to talkSPORT in April that both he and Methven would like to stay even as attempts to sell were ongoing.

That is surely now untenable, given the reaction to the financial revelations that followed and the recent debacle over season cards.

It’s one of a few key questions that we need an update on:

- Is the sale still being actively pursued?

- Where do talks currently stand and has a preferred bidder been identified?

- What is the asking price (and therefore, what return are the ownership seeking)?

Q: With Jim Rodwell saying that Stewart Donald "funding" the Club during the pandemic do you think the remains of the parachute payment owed by Madrox will now be reduced?

It’s imperative that it is.

Fans have made sacrifices to support the club, many members of club staff are doing the same.

So that money has to come back in.

Madrox said in May that the balance had come down to around £11.5 million, and some of that was due to funds placed into the club around the start of the pandemic crisis (it’s not clear how much of this was FPP money).

It seems certain that more will be needed.

More broadly, this is a huge issue for the club.

If the money can’t be put in now, then fans should be told and why and what the plan now is for doing so.

Q: This summer feels like a repeat of last, where the owner is trying to sell and until it’s decided, there’s no planning in place and no players signed. Have you heard differently?

I share the concern, for sure.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the last couple of years has been the total failure to break out of that short-termism, moving from window to the next with no real coherent vision.

Given the uncertainty over the ownership, you do fear it is going to be a similar story this summer.

I think it is slightly different to last, in that I think this time around the mood around the club day-to-day (for those still working at least) seems to be that the plan is to press on in the assumption that the club won’t be sold ahead of the new season.

This time last year, we had key figures associated with Campbell and the man himself on Wearside for long stretches, making plans, meeting staff etc.

We don’t quite seem to be there this summer.

So there do seem to be recruitment plans being made and talks happening.

When and how exactly that moves forward is the key question and the way last summer panned out does loom large.

Q: If the season is to be behind closed doors, will League 1 even go ahead? If not how can clubs cope financially until fans are allowed back into grounds?

Most clubs will be hugely reluctant to start without fans, and that may well be one of the reasons why there is a delay.

Any move to bring back fans is going to be subject to government approval and advice.

Individual clubs will then have to work with the local authorities to determine exactly how many they can safely get into their stadiums, and what they will have to do to make it work.

There is clearly no long-term viability for clubs to play without fans.

Whether they might agree to it for an interim period before slowly beginning to build up capacity is another matter.

There surely has to also be a recognition of the consequences of not starting a new campaign alongside the top two tiers, ranging from broadcast deals to questions of visibility and relevance.

Q: Do you think we will sign Bailey Wright now he is a free agent and how well he played for us in the short time he was with us?

It should be a no-brainer (and hopefully will prove to be).

He improved the side, has vast experience, and fits perfectly into what the manager wants to do.

The manager is very keen to sign him, the player has been very clear that he wanted to earn a long-term deal (and showed his commitment by moving up for the loan).

He’d be a very good addition, would give everyone a bit of a boost and so hopefully there’ll be movement on that one.