|Posted on 14 February, 2018 at 5:30|
A new eBook has shed light on a bizarre email exchange between a then fanzine editor and football club owner, wanting a campaign set up against former Sunderland AFC vice chairman, David Miliband.
Attack! Attack! Attack! is an eBook looking back at the ten years in the life of author, Malcolm Robinson, since he wrote one of the first books on the modern Afghanistan conflict entitled, “From Afghanistan to Temazepam”.
In the original book, Robinson kept a diary of his time in the Royal Air Force in Kandahar in 2006 to 2007, which was published charting his football team’s (Sunderland) rise to promotion under then manager, Roy Keane.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary, Robinson released “Attack! Attack! Attack! – The story of football, business and war 10 years on” as a look back on events in his life since.
He became editor of Sunderland fan’s magazine, Seventy3, and it was here where one of the most bizarre stories in the eBook comes to light.
It centres around an email exchange between Robinson and Sunderland’s Texan billionaire owner, Ellis Short. In the exchange, Robinson sends Short an electronic copy of Seventy3 in support of then newly appointed head coach – Paolo di Canio.
Short’s reply was to the point, to say the least.
In the email Short wrote: “There should be a fan-led publicity effort to get David Miliband, since he harmed the team by his publicity seeking, and since he abandoned his constituents to go make big money in New York, to disgorge all the money that SAFC paid him as director and donate it to the Foundation of Light to help local families and kids.”
Subsequent emails from Short added “can’t come from team, so this wasn’t my recommendation.”
In an extract from the eBook, Robinson adds: “To say I was a bit shocked would have been an understatement…no way was I expecting a response like that. Don’t get me wrong, the Seventy3 team and I were most likely in complete agreement with Ellis on this one. Miliband had left the club with a public swipe, this after receiving a decent salary, purely for sitting on the board. Yet for this to come from Ellis Short, a public figure and the current owner of Sunderland AFC, a Texan billionaire to a humble fanzine editor, whom he didn't know that well, well was quite astonishing.”
A few days later, Mal obliged with a softer approach to the Miliband affair, this article appearing in the Shields Gazette, the paper for South Shields – the constituency of David Miliband - https://www.shieldsgazette.com/news/miliband-wrong-to-quit-sunderland-over-di-canio-1-5544523" target="_blank">https://www.shieldsgazette.com/news/miliband-wrong-to-quit-sunderland-over-di-canio-1-5544523
Sunderland AFC appointed controversial figure, Paolo di Canio as head coach of the club in March 2013. His suggested links to fascism caused a wave of conflict towards the club from fans and public figures alike, with the Durham Miner’s Association requesting their historic banner back from the club (which hung in the reception of the Stadium of Light) and the resignation of then Sunderland vice chairman and former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.
Indeed, it was Miliband’s resignation citing di Canio’s “past political statements” as his reason for leaving the club, which struck a nerve with owner, Short, leading to the email exchanges calling for a campaign against the former politician.
BBC political correspondent Chris Mason said at the time that Mr Miliband's decision to stand down was entirely to do with Mr Di Canio's appointment and nothing to do with his forthcoming move to New York to work for a charity.
The Sunderland owner, who has seen a public backlash from fans following relegation from the Premier League last season, sees his team currently residing in the relegation zone of the Championship.
Author, Robinson said: “I was in disbelief at the time of the emails, but it showed Ellis’ passion for the club, something that seems to be missing now the club is in freefall. It makes you wonder where that passion and interest from Ellis has gone? I have included balanced stories on Ellis in the book, some good stuff he has done behind the scenes. It makes you wonder why now he seems to have lost interest in the club, when at the end of the day, it is his saleable asset. ”
Attack! Attack! Attack! The Story of Football, Business And War 10 Years On is available now in digital format via this link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Attack-Story-Football-Business-years-ebook/dp/B079NTXJC1/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1518604159&sr=8-8&keywords=malcolm+robinson" target="_blank">https://www.amazon.co.uk/Attack-Story-Football-Business-years-ebook/dp/B079NTXJC1/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1518604159&sr=8-8&keywords=malcolm+robinson
It is available on other platforms here: https://www.books2read.com/u/3L9kXe" target="_blank">https://www.books2read.com/u/3L9kXe
Wearside at Wembley - Mercantile Credit Trophy Special
If you thought the Sherpa Van Trophy was bad it was the Champions? League compared to the living death which was 1988?s Mercantile Credit Trophy.
If you?re a younger reader and therefore thinking ?WTF? as I believe you hipsters say, think yourself lucky. If you are old enough to have been actively supporting Sunderland 25 years ago, you are probably experiencing flashbacks which would shame a Summer of Love acid survivor.
I should start by saying that, in theory at least, I have free will, and I had a choice: I had the option of not going for God?s sake. However, this is Sunderland and the prospect of missing any ?competitive? game is anathema so duty called and Wembley beckoned. After all, there was a whole week between the tournament and a short trip to Southend: easy.
This abomination of a ?tournament? was conceived as the Football League Centenary Tournament and, obviously, brought to you by sponsors Mercantile Credit finance. How productive a sponsorship in terms of business growth this proved to be remains unknown. I?m sure profits slumped in its aftermath.
Qualification was based on clubs? records over a certain number of games during the season and, unfortunately, our march towards promotion meant we were duly invited to participate. Enthusiasm was not rampant on the streets of Hendon.
The League was hopeful, or na´ve, in thinking that holding it at Wembley would create interest and spectators: they were wrong. The Saturday saw around 41,000 attending and the Sunday, Finals Day, about 17,000. It seems not having Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and West Ham playing may have been a tactical error.
The teams unlucky enough to qualify were: Aston Villa; Blackburn; Palace; Everton; Luton; Man Utd; the Mags; Forest; Sheff Wed; Sunderland; Tranmere; Wigan; Wimbledon and Wolves.
For the record, if anyone cares, the tournament was won by Nottingham Forest whose iconic leader, Brian Clough, wisely decided to give the whole weekend a miss. Forest won on penalties in the end, massively eclipsing their paltry two European Cup triumphs.
The method of victory was appropriate in as much as the League had failed to consider that the duration of games on Day One, twenty minutes each way, would inevitably lead to goalless draws and hence penalty shoot-outs. Mind you, the League would probably argue that the lottery of a shoot-out only added to the excitement of what was billed as the inevitable ?family fun day out?.
The games on the Sunday were of thirty minutes each way duration but it is not insignificant that two of the quarter-finals, one of the semis and the final itself were decided on penalties.
The biggest winners that weekend were Tranmere Rovers, firstly because they beat the Mags 2-0 in the Quarter-Finals but mainly because it was only a year since they had come very close to going out of the League entirely. Tranmere would see more of Wembley in subsequent years, of course.
Never mind all that, I hear you cry: what fate befell our beloved Sunderland in the white-hot cauldron of the national stadium that day? Unsurprisingly, 1973 apart, it was at Wembley so naturally we lost. Following the pattern of the entire pointless spectacle, forty minutes of will-sapping, brain-numbing inertia against glamorous Wigan Athletic produced a goalless draw followed by a defeat on penalties: I can?t remember the score so meaningless was it.
What I do remember, for the only time in my life, was praying that we would lose on penalties so I could have an excuse to leave and either spend the rest of the day more productively drinking in the capital or catch an early train back north: I chose the latter option as I recall.
The League, in its wisdom, had somehow overlooked the logistical challenges posed to travelling fans by a tournament whose duration involving your side was unknown. We had catered for this by the obvious expedient of having open rail tickets and arranging to stay over with London Branch members in the unlikely event of qualifying for the Sunday: no chance. As it turned out, I remember being back in Sunderland in time for the highlights on that night?s Match of the Day. When I say highlights, I am sure it was a short programme.
Looking back, why I bothered at all is hard to fathom. We got to Wembley late due to dallying in a rather hospitable London hostelry near Kings Cross. We did not, however, get there late enough to miss our game with Wigan but had missed the twin treats of Tranmere beating Wimbledon 1-0 and the Mags drawing 0-0 with Liverpool then beating them on penalties.
Leaving Wembley that Saturday, however, I had my revenge, taking it all out on an unfortunate Wolves supporter. Violence I hear you ask? No, worse than that: I gave him my ticket for the Sunday. His team having already been eliminated by Everton (yes, on penalties) he was reluctant but he was staying over anyway and the offer of money and free beer to take it off my hands clinched the deal.
You?re envious now, I can tell. You just wish they would arrange another such tournament soon, don?t you? It was terrible. I must add that those who criticise the new Wembley can have spent little time in the crumbling wreck which the old one was even then and certainly was ten years later for the Charlton play-off game.
Looking back, given the Metropolitan Police?s notoriously cautious approach to games in the capital, it?s a wonder the event took place. The Met could have saved everyone the time and trouble, not to mention cost, by simply banning the whole fiasco on public order grounds.
Given that one of one?s priorities for a long time when in London with Sunderland is checking fixtures and tube routes to estimate the likelihood of running into rival fans en route to or from other grounds, one might imagine that London on Mercantile weekend resembled modern day Syria.
After all, we were there as well as the Mags, their traditional allies in all things anti Sunderland Forest and, of course, Leeds United with whom we share a certain history going back to the sixties, one might say.
I stand to be corrected but this was not the impression I got, at least on the Saturday. It seemed that such was the stupefying dullness of the entire event that even the most dedicated adherent of ?bother? was lulled into a soporific state of pacifism, deeming the triviality of the contest and lack of kudos attendant on its whole proceedings unworthy of lifting a hand or launching a boot. There can be no greater shame, surely, than a football tournament even hooligans cannot be bothered to fight at.
The last word on the accursed Mercantile Credit trophy belongs to a certain Sunderland magazine of the era called Wise Men Say which, in one of its not uncommon satirical moments, suggested that the Football League Centenary would have been better served as a commemoration by an It?s a Knock-Out style drinking contest in which diehard drinkers from leading clubs gathered in a suitable London hostelry, the winner being the last man standing.
Knowing our luck, of course, it would still have gone to penalties or, in this case, pints of Whitbread Trophy the pint, as the slogan says ?that thinks it?s a quart? but you wish was a half!