The Worst It’s Ever Been

As 2019 nears its conclusion, Michael Lough looks back on a decade of woe supporting Sunderland AFC and how the 2010s end with the Lads in the worst position in their entire history under the management of Phil Parkinson

Given his strong cockney accent, it is unlikely that the character of Al Murray the pub landlord was intended to be a Sunderland fan.

However, his observation that ‘life, is a never-ending series of relentless and grinding disappointments’ sums up life as a Sunderland with such eerie precision, you could be forgiven for thinking he was a lifelong season ticket holder.

Of course, most football fans will have a similar sentiment towards the club they support and to make an even more dated cultural reference, hearing a group of rival football fans discussing their team’s performance can be akin to watching the infamous Monty Python  ‘Yorkshireman’ sketch.

Apart from armchair fans of a top four club, it’s quite common for football fans to be self-deprecating and try and explain to you why their team is the hardest in the world to support.

Even with this in mind, if a football version of the Yorkshiremen sketch was filmed it would almost certainly end with a Sunderland fan standing up and shouting, ‘right! You lot don’t know you’re born, I’ve seen my football club get relegated with two record low points totals, lose 8-0, suffer back to back relegations, pay £9 million for a player we never owned, one of our best players turns out to be a nonce, concede thee own goals within 15 minutes of each other and go almost an entire calendar without winning a home game and I’m not even 25 years old yet!’

Of course, if the Sunderland fan in question listed all the ‘banter moments’ from the last 10 years or so, we’d probably already be 1-0 down to Gillingham.

From my point of view, this makes our current situation even more galling. It’s not as if we’ve just suffered a couple of bad years that resulted in back to back relegations, we have pretty much been getting beat every week since we returned to the Premier League in 2007.

As things stand, things are so bad that we are looking back on battling against relegation season upon season with nostalgia.

Of course, the standard of football we were watching was much improved, but it’s revisionist in the extreme to claim that it was at all pleasurable to follow Sunderland during those years, as fun as the great escapes and derby victories were.

Even during one of our more stable seasons under Steve Bruce we went from October 21st 2009 to March, 9th 2010 without tasting success in the league.

Therefore it is disheartening to see all the ‘good footballing’ men rallying around Phil Parkinson despite a dismal run of just two wins in 11 matches.

Sunderland manager Phil Parkinson
Sunderland manager Phil Parkinson

As Sunderland supporters we are seasoned veterans of identifying rubbish football and knowing when a manager is out of their depth.

I’m sick to death of being lectured about Parkinson ‘needing time’ and other such platitudes-we’ve been here far too many times before.

As David Moyes proved when he was Sunderland manager, persisting with something that is clearly failing is not stability.

Back then we were told that we couldn’t just keep sacking manager and a man with his track record needed to be given the chance to turn things around. Sure, he did a good job at Everton, but his failings at United and Real Sociedad were ignored.

This was despite his stats being awful during his time on Wearside, with his side managing the second fewest number of chances created, spending 261 days in the bottom three and ‘achieving’ a goal difference of minus 40.

Fast forward three and a bit years and we find ourselves in a similar situation, but this time in the third tier of English football.

Ex-pros may label fan calling for his sacking ‘ridiculous’ but this shows no understanding of the context of the situation we find ourselves in.

Right now as the club sits at its lowest ever ebb, we are being served up horrendous results, worse football and press conferences that make David Moyes look like Malcolm X.

Pundits may point out that he deserves time and point to examples of him getting things right at Bradford over time, or getting it right at Bolton in the long run.

However, more alarmingly, he failed to turn around these poor starts at Hull and Charlton and was shown the door by both after poor results and performances.

Stewart Donald
Stewart Donald

Parkinson was sacked after less than six months with Hull in the relegation zone and getting beat 5-1 by his former employers, Colchester United. He was also dismissed after relegating Charlton Athletic and failing to gain promotion from League One the following year, and it took him the best part of two seasons to get Bradford City to scrape a play-off position – and had to rely on the lottery of the play-offs to get them promoted.

What makes the alarm bells ring even louder is the sheer fact that he has these bad starts almost everywhere he’s been.

This begs the question, ‘what on earth possessed Donald and Co to hire this man?’ (Apart from the glowing references of course.)

By Stewart Donald’s own admission Jack Ross was sacked because the ‘underlying performance data’ suggested that we weren’t going to get promoted.

So what was it about Phil Parkinson’s two wins in his first 11 games as Hull City that made Donald think he was the man to hit the ground running? Perhaps his record of one win in his first 11 at Charlton really got his pulse racing? Maybe a scintillating two wins in 11 as Bradford’s manager really caught his eye?

Naturally, we’ll never know but to sack one man for not having us on course for promotion before hiring another who is notorious for starting slowly at all but one of his former employees is nothing short of baffling.

At the beginning of the season the owner bullishly stated that he felt that the club should be aiming for 100 points. A few months later this plan seemed to have been completely abandoned by appointing a manager who is known for long term building at football clubs.

Even if we accept the debatable premise that Phil Parkinson does well given time that is not what we needed.

By the criteria of both the owners and the fans, promotion was a necessity this season, by appointing Parkinson it makes it look as though the owners were happy for us to become a run of the mill League One side.

Even his recent success at Bolton was done through fire-fighting rather than through any forward thinking strategy.

After all we’ve been through as supporters we have every right to demand more. Since Parkinson had been appointed we seem to reaching a ‘new low in the club’s history’ on an almost weekly basis.

On this evidence, he is very much the lower league journeyman manager who has enjoyed mixed fortunes over his career.

Defeat at Gillingham and the alarm bells over the wisdom of Stewart Donald’s choice will ring ever louder throughout Wearside.

Michael Lough