Football / Fan's Eye View: Suffering another false dawn: No 80 - Sunderland

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A MEMBER of the audience at last week's Radio Five Alive debate on the north-East football scene put it perfectly into perspective. 'Are you a Sunderland supporter?' the panel's chairman, Ron Jones, asked. 'No,' came the reply, 'I'm a Sunderland sufferer.'

Through thin and thin we have followed Sunderland. Occasionally we have had the good times. There were five trips to Wembley in the last 20 years, for example: we beat Leeds in the 1973 FA Cup final; lost to Norwich in the 1985 Milk Cup final; lost to mighty Wigan in the first round of the Football League centenary tournament in 1988; got stuffed 1-0 by Swindon in the 1990 Football League play-offs and lost 2-0 to Liverpool in the 1992 FA Cup final. I told you we'd had some good days.

Add to this four promotions from various divisions, plus a corresponding number of relegations and several other near misses, usually at the less scenic end of the table, and we certainly can't complain about a lack of excitement at Roker Park. Actually, we can - we're fed up with underachieving.

Sunderland are often referred to as 'one of England's sleeping giants' - but comatose would be a more apt description. False dawns come along as regularly as a John Kay piledriver into the massed ranks of the Fulwell End; never quite making it but always coming reasonably close. One day, though, we hope that we will get there.

Where we will get, however, is unclear. The Premiership is the goal, but with only one guaranteed promotion slot competition will be fierce. The likes of Wolves have invested pounds 2.5m on their promotion push and our neiqhbours Middlesbrough, with the Bionic Man in charge, have thrown a couple of million around.

We have spent . . . pounds 100,000 on the Aston Villa full-back Dariusz Kubicki. He's an excellent buy, and very cheap to boot, but that's hardly the point as clubs around us have geared up for a tilt at the Premiership and we have underinvested again.

Lack of ambition in the boardroom has been the terrace cry for years. The former chairman Bob Murray, who is still the majority shareholder, kept a tight rein on the purse strings before suddenly throwing pounds 2m to that nice Terry Butcher to spend. Butch actually spent the money well, but was unable to mould the individuals into a cohesive team. The result is that there is no money for new players and we've had to resort to advertisements in the other, less interesting, Pink 'Un (the Financial Times) for people to invest in the club and our proposed new stadium.

The very words bring a tear to the throat and a lump to the eye. Not a sod has yet been turned and it's beginning to look as though there will never be a new ground on the A19 site. A disused colliery site is being mooted as a possible alternative.

Meanwhile, our black and white neighbours have built themselves a fine stadium and even Middlesbrough are planning to relocate to the docks area, presumably so that Robbo can arrive by club yacht on match days.

On the pitch, Sunderland are still short of a couple of players required to transform an average side into a promotion chasing one. Whether, though, the Sunderland board will empty their collective piggy-banks into the manager's pocket is doubtful at the moment. Len Shackleton got it right all those years ago. Writing in his autobiography, he headed one chapter of his book 'What the average director knows about football'. The page was completely blank.