Love Sick Sunderland Must Evolve Or Die

The departure of Dick Advocaat this week was sad, disappointing and predictable. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but he probably should have been left alone in the summer. Our public pursuit of the Dutchman appeared to be driven by emotion rather than logic and it’s something that seems synonymous with this football club; we’re love sick.


Dick’s tears at the Emirates were special, but were they enough to justify another stint in the job? Being fair, he did keep us up playing pragmatic football. However, the defining image of Advocaat’s tenure was a watery-eyed embrace with his friend and first team coach. Give him the job, he gets it. Many of us, myself included, were willing to put the somewhat illogical return aside and let hearts rule heads.


Dick isn’t the first man to break our hearts, but do we ever learn?


It feels we’re so desperate for a new hero that we take anyone that brings us a modicum of happiness close to our hearts too quickly. Inevitably it sours. It hurts.


I was out for lunch on Sunday and heard two blokes discussing potential managers. “I’d give it to Kevin Phillips, he’s been assistant manager wherever he’s been”, one suggested. “I’d bring Reidy back, me” said another. I felt like pouring gravy into my ears.


The yearning for icons on Wearside can at times outweigh the rational. Unfortunately, with every abject season that passes, memories are all we’ve got.


Roy Keane was critical of the obsession with the 1973 FA Cup winning side. He said they were around the club all the time, too much. The fortnightly celebration of our only achievement in 40 odd years is indicative of just how bad things have been. The Irishman had a point though. We’re a club that finds it hard to move on.


Gus Poyet angered supporters with comments about ‘kick and rush football’ and accused people of being stuck in the past. Again, he probably had a point. He said some stupid things at the wrong times, but the yearning for a style of football from some that has seen it’s day is evident in some quarters.


What is our style of play? Effort, passion, commitment, tackles? I’d argue that’s not a style, it’s the bare minimum.


The roar a hearty challenge brings from the stands can rival that of a goal. It takes you back to the days of Bally steaming in to a hay maker. You can almost smell the Bovril. But when the opposition take the resulting throw in, slice through a disorganised defence and go 3-0 up it kind of takes the gloss off things a bit.


It’s mind boggling to me that today we have people suggesting Peter Reid should become involved in the club again, in a Director of Football role. It’s terrifying.


I’ve got lots of respect for Reid. It was an incredible time to be a supporter, but it’s done. He could come back, but those days won’t follow. After his sacking in 2002, his managerial credentials plummeted. He was a brilliant motivator, but football has moved on. You need more than that now and there’s no evidence to suggest Reid could bring anything helpful to the table 13 years on. Putting him in charge of transfers? In his pomp, he spent £5m on the wrong Milton Nunez. They laughed about it.


I do agree that we need more football people involved at board level. But it has to be the right people. Contrary to the majority of this piece, Niall Quinn rebuilt this football club. He saved its soul and gave it back to the City. The connection between the club and supporters has frayed since his departure and it would be good to see that return.


Michael Gray has been vocal in his criticism of Ellis Short. He’s since patched things up with the Chairman and, one way or another, put himself forward as a casual advisor. I’d rather he didn’t. Again, Michael moved on from Sunderland many years ago. I’m sure he still loves the City and the club, but does he know it as it is now? Or does he know it as the club that thrilled terraces in the late nineties/early noughties?


Some might see this as an attack on supporters. It isn’t. The fans are the best thing about Sunderland, no question.


If you fail to evolve, you face extinction. We have tried to evolve and it hasn’t worked. I don’t think heading back to the swamp is the answer though.


Gareth Barker


Join us at Port of Call in Sunderland on Wednesday 14th October for a live show in order to raise funds for Pop Recs Ltd. We’ll be joined by former SAFC men David Preece and Michael Proctor, as well as ALS editor in chief Martyn McFadden. Tickets just £4. Raffle. All proceeds go to Pop Recs Ltd. 7pm start. You can buy tickets here. Feel free to share the event on Facebook, you’ll find it here. You can find Pop Recs Ltd Kickstarter page here.