An Entirely Personal View on the current State of SAFC
In the light of the criticism heaped on SAFC through the messages posted by the members of the Ready To Go / ALS message board, I think it only right to try and take a step back and look at the overall state of our club as it is today compared to say seven years ago.
Unfortunately I am one of those who experienced the fervour of standing like sardines in the Fulwell End amongst a crowd of 54,000 fervent supporters. Towards the end of its life Roker Park had changed. Capacity reduced, crowds didn't even match the capacity. On the pitch we were struggling at the wrong end of Division One. Why? Not enough quality coming through, not enough bums on seats, not enough revenues. The problem had to be addressed.
Now excuse me for saying that the club, or even the new Chairman, began a policy of turning this around. I guess the team manager also helped but maybe the current incumbent just got lucky and took the right job at the right time. hard to say.
But the vision was clear. The way forward was to improve the performance on the pitch and get more bums on seats. Getting more bums on seats would improve revenues and further help matters on the pitch due to the increase of funds available.
So what happened? The decision was taken to relocate and to build the Stadium we know today. Normally this could be an expensive operation (look at Wembley) but somehow SAFC managed to do it quite cheaply and still end up with a new Stadium that is ranked amongst the top 10 stadia in the World. Meanwhile, fortunately, the team's fortunes on the pitch started to look-up. All of a sudden the new stadium and the team on the pitch had added another 30,000 bums on seats compared to the average of the last few seasons at Roker Park. Money must have been rolling in.
SAFC did not stop there. The foundations of the club had already been uprooted and re-built with the Stadium move. Next was to address the problem of the foundations of the playing staff. Create a structure that could attract young talent, nurture it, and mould the stars of the future. Hence the birth of the Academy. All of a sudden the foundations of SAFC had been completely gutted and re-built. Very often, the re-building of a complete infrastructure of a club and the expense involved, may have an adverse affect on the investment and results on the pitch. This is where, either by good management (or by pure luck) SAFC struck lucky. An exciting team had been built that played attractive football. The First Division was taken by storm and the momentum propelled the team up through the top half of the Premiership. So many people wanted to watch this team, the Stadium was expanded and more bums were placed on seats and everything in the garden was rosy.
Then the rot set in.
So what went wrong? The club was being built on sound economic and development principles based around a tight budget. Looking back you can't point the finger at the Chairman at this point. It was the team management, coaching staff and playing staff that imploded upon itself. Where did it start? Probably it was the Magic Johnson affair, closely followed by Helmer, Summerbee and Makin. Until then, SAFC were on the up-and-up so I would have to conclude that the reason for the sharp demise was that Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton and their staff became too carried-away with their own success and that ultimately, their arrogance or stubbornness, caused an attractive team to disintegrate. Not that this was the only problem. New players were being brought-in who were not up to scratch. Money was being wasted on players transfer fees and wages for which we were getting little return.
My belief at this present time is that Peter Reid has been told by Mr. Murray to sort things out. Obviously Mr. Murray can see that large chunks of his investments have been wasted on too many failures on the transfer front. How can we sign players such as Milton Nunez, never play him and then take a case to court to say that we have been duped into signing the wrong player? Surely to goodness someone from the scouting network must have watched the player before we signed him!
The finger must be pointed at Peter Reid and his staff. After their initial success they got lazy. It became 'jobs for the boys' as Reid employed his old friends from Everton onto his staff. Andy King was head of the scouting network wasn't he? No surprise that he left given the number of failures that were bought in.
So in my opinion, this close season, Reidy has been told to get it together again or he is out. A slight re-shuffle has been made. I believe that Reid trusts Saxton a great deal and he has therefore put him in charge of the scouting network and the youngsters development. So we now have a change in that area and we will have to see how it works out. Adrian Heath has been promoted to assistant manager and first team coach. A role that apparently he has really been doing for quite some time now. Most people have no faith in his appointment but if the only choice that we have to make is between spending money on new players or on a new coach, then we will have to give Heath a chance because we need the new players more. Additionally, new changes have been announced regarding fitness coaches and sports psychologists which all points to the fact that a new 'seriousness' has been adopted by Reid.
So, to sum-up. The club has changed dramatically since 7 years ago. We now have a solid infrastructure that has been built upon a strict and manageable budget. The club is on a sound footing and is only one of 3 clubs in the Premiership that is making a profit. The route is now in place to allow young players to be attracted to the club and to bring them through. The only thing that has gone off the rails is the 1st Team itself. Perhaps Reid could argue that this was because the funds have been spent on the Stadium and the academy. We the fans know that some of our most popular players have been alienated and then sold by Reid because perhaps they expressed one opinion too many and that Reid himself and Saxton started to believe in their own greatness. This is where our current problems lie because everything else in the garden is still rosy.
So Peter is now in the last chance saloon. But, if what we are to believe what we are told, he has now looked at his scouting network and put someone he trusts in charge. What he must now do is to lift both the supporters and his squad of players. After last season, morale must be at an all time low. There is only one way to fix this and that is to get in some Big Name players and give everyone a lift. Preferably before we start the new season!!!
I for one believe that we are almost there. All the building blocks are in place and we have at least tried to address the problem areas such as Scouting and coaching (although the jury is still out on the latter). The club have not mortgaged their future to build this structure like Leeds, Chelsea and to some extent 'Boro and Newcastle. Peter Reid now has to get it right on the pitch or else he has to go because, as I hope I have explained, he has been the weak link in the development of the club over the last 2 years.
So come on. Let's get those signings in and give us all a boost. This club should now be going places and not stagnating in the lower reaches of the Premiership.