SUCCESSIVE defeats have taken much of the shine off the promising start which Sunderland had made to a season which everyone hoped would carry them towards the twin targets of promotion and a vastly improved following at the gates.
In both instances there were considerations which were fully appreciated by those most deeply involved in achieving a success pattern, but the paying customer who is entitled to demand value for money is not so easily assuaged.
It is not surprising, therefore, to find increasing clamour for action by the Sunderland board to organise the means of footing the bill for a long overdue effort to quicken the process of team development.
The belief that a club which declared only two months ago a loss on the season of over £100,000 and liabilities of nearly £250,000 which must have mounted considerably since then due to falling attendances may yet create a situation in which finance would be available for Manager Alan Brown to strengthen his first team pool is gaining ground.
It is based on the half-promise given by club chairman Mr Keith Collings at the annual meeting that the position was being investigated and he hoped to have good news shortly.
Since then reports, which appear to have some foundation, but have not been officially confirmed, suggest that a restructuring of the board is under consideration, with Mr Stanley Ritson and Mr Jack Cooke retiring to become vice-presidents and the vacancies going to newcomers able to offer a substantial increase in guarantees.
Whatever development there may have been on these lines, it is understandable that it should be conducted privately and though it is to be expected that there will be a lot of speculation club officials can be excused for keeping it to themselves until they are ready to make an announcement.
At the same time, there are broader issues involved which seem to justify public outcry on the absence of outward signs of activity at a time when there appears to be most to gain from a more adventurous policy.
It is nearly two years since Sunderland paid a transfer fee to increase their playing staff and hasten the development process. Since then they have received nearly £200,000 from the outward transfer of four players.
That is a simple calculation which supporters are able to make without any inside information. It may take a little longer to figure out that since the 1963-64 promotion-winning season a total of nearly £750,000 has been received from transfers and over £400,000 of that came from the sale of players who cost nothing more than signing-on fees. In the same period there has been substantial outlay on players of course, and there has been the continued drain of meeting big club expenses on small club income.
But the customer who makes – or would like to make – Roker Park the centre of his football interest is not encouraged when he looks around to see what is happening at other clubs. In the last two years, while his own club has been unable to meet the cost of building up team strength by acquiring experienced and talented players, Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Carlisle United, Hartlepool and Darlington have all managed to improve their prospects and attraction by buying.
A more recent example of the kind of opposition which they have to meet while chasing their promotion ambitions came on Thursday with the announcement that Queens Park Rangers, whom they met this afternoon, and handed out a £165,000 fee for Dave Thomas to cover the loss through injury of Martin Busby only 48 hours earlier. And they has already added Stan Bowles (£110,000), and Don Given (£40,000) to their strength.
By the development of home-produced talent, Sunderland have ensured a supply of first-class player to provide the ideal framework for a team of great potential. And most of the youngsters who have been introduced will surely play leading parts in grabbing whatever honours are eventually to come Sunderland’s way.
But their case – and Sunderland’s – will be far better served if power and experience is injected into the side at the earliest possible moment. Impatience to see this course of action brought about is the underlying motive behind the wave of criticism now mounting among supporters.
The waiting game has been threadbare for too long and realisation of this bites a little deeper when other clubs, facing the problems and fired by the same ambitions, do not have to wait.
Supporters could well feel that they had been served with another example of last season’s big occasion let-downs when Sunderland tumbled to a 2–0 home defeat against Luton Town last week.
After struggling through an adverse programme with considerable success and then taking a severe hiding at Oxford, it was the optimistic hope that they would be striking into a more balanced programme with a heartening win over Luton. The fact that they created sufficient goal-scoring chances to have won a dozen games did not ease the painful blow administered by this home defeat.
Hard on top of this was the news that they had to go into this afternoon’s game against Queens Park Rangers without the services of Dave Watson and Billy Hughes.
So they still face a big haul to get back on to the right track again. Successive home games against Fulham and Aston Villa offer them the opportunity of early gains, but the battle for improvement becomes tougher all the time.
Story taken from the Football Echo on October 21 1972.