Today is the first game that Sunderland AFC will have played since their former winger, Adam Johnson, was convicted of grooming and sexual activity with a girl of 15 years. Since then a number of allegations have been made of the club themselves regarding their handling of the whole episode, from the initial suspension right up to today’s date.
It would appear that the Chief Executive Officer of SAFC, Margaret Byrne, knew of the serious allegations made about Adam Johnson from as early as 2 March 2015. This statement has come from Durham Police themselves, advising that they told Byrne that Johnson has messaged, kissed, met and engaged in sexual activity with the girl.
Sunderland upon hearing of the above suspended Johnson on 2 March 2015. This was the MINIMUM action that the club needed to take but the twist comes that only 16 days later following meeting with the Professional Footballers Association he was reinstated back to first team action on 18 March 2015.
Johnson was then charged with four offences on 23 April 2015. Grooming and three counts of sexual activity with a child. A short statement from Sunderland was issued in light of this:
‘Following yesterday’s statement from Durham Constabulary, the club recognises that the formal legal process must take its course and whilst our position remains unchanged, we will keep the matter under review.
‘The club will not be making any further comment.’
For someone to be charged the Crown Prosecution Service needs to satisfy itself that there is a high probability that a conviction will be secured. Byrne would have been aware of this and had also seen evidence from the police that they had submitted to the CPS but still thought it in the best interests of the club to continue to allow Johnson to represent them.
On 9 February 2016 the trail began and on 10 February 2016 Johnson admitted to grooming and one count of sexual touching with a child. It took Sunderland until the following day to terminate the players contract.
What were Sunderland thinking?
SAFC started off on 2 March 2015 quite well having suspended Johnson in light of his arrest. Remember that Byrne, even at this early stage knew of the severity of the charges. It could be argued that knowing what she knew they would have had grounds at that point to sack Johnson.
Then came the PFA meeting which saw Johnson’s suspension being removed and him joining the first team. A few points:
- What message did this send to the victim?
- Letting Johnson play would have sent a message to the fans that in their opinion Johnson wasn’t guilty. This in itself may have led to Sunderland fans terrace chants of “Adam Johnson, he shags who he wants” – again, the club allowed this to happen by returning Johnson to the first team. How would such chants make the victim feel?
- Sunderland have form for letting players continue to play whilst being arrested, under investigation and charged for sexual offences. Previously Titus Bramble was allowed to train and play for the first team whilst he waited to go to trail on a charge of sexual assault. Bramble was found not guilty – maybe this is a factor is why SAFC allowed Johnson to continue.
- What compelling argument did the PFA have to override the knowledge that Byrne held that would compel SAFC to risk damaging their name in the event that Johnson was found guilty?
- What safeguarding methods were employed to prevent the hundreds, if not thousands of young female supporters having access to the player?
Johnson being allowed to play continued on even when he was charged with the offences with barely a whisper coming from the club. At this point again there would have been sufficient ground to terminate his contract. Not only did they not sack him, they didn’t even reinstate the suspension.
On the second day of the trail Johnson admitted to two charges. It took Sunderland until the following day to sack him. Surely they had been taking legal action from March 2015 and should be prepared for this eventuality? It would appear that they were not. With a typically short statement from Sunderland, the sort which has typified their arms length handling of the saga, they announced they had terminated his contract.
Sunderland must have thought that this would be the end of it for them. A further statement was then to be released when the allegations that Byrne knew substantially more than what the public was lead to believe she did trying to extinguish the flames of a scandal.
Sunderland’s statement revolves arounds the pleas that Johnson was to make. It sounds to me like SAFC is saying ‘We will support you and pay you as long as you plead not guilty but plead guilty and we will sack you’. The message should be ‘We are a family club and care greatly about our young supporters – they are the future of our club. We will not tolerate any member of our staff, player or otherwise, abusing their position within the club. Due to this we have sacked Mr Johnson with immediate effect and apologies to the young supporter and her family for any distress this as caused’.
The fact that this case went to court and the girl in question, who idolised Johnson, was put through hell (as detailed in the court proceedings) should have been enough for Sunderland to protect this fan ahead of a predatory player.
Johnson received a reported £2,000,000 in wages whilst on bail. Even when he is released he should be financially safe. For the victim she has nothing and feels unable to go back to the club she loved.
It seems to me that Sunderland AFC put their investment in Johnson and their financial interests in staying in the Premier League ahead of their morals and image of a family friendly club.
Even now, after the trial, they are batting off criticism and closing ranks, trying to get on with business as usual. There seems to be no support for the victim when the club itself was the gateway for Johnson to groom and sexually assault the 15 year old child. They are absolving themselves of any responsibility whatsoever and Margaret Byrne’s silence is also telling.
Byrne needs to resign or face questions from the press regarding this matter.
If I was a Sunderland fan I would not be happy with how the Johnson saga has been handled and I would demand either change or answers. The only way fans can do this is to stay away from the games. If 4,000 fans turned up to the next home game rather than 40,000 the club would realise that they have a problem. Clubs nowadays can behave how they want as us, the fans, or the lemmings, just turn up regardless due to some misplaced loyalty and how we think we are letting down the eleven players on the pitch if we don’t support them. Problem is that without the fans there wouldn’t be any players on the pitch. Sunderland, as every day passes and they keep quiet about this, are insulting every fan of the club.
I personally would not be able to attend matches whilst Byrne was at the helm without apologising and explaining or resigning. I know the CEO or the Board isn’t the club, they come and go, but so do players.
I’m a Boro fan and our Chairman, Steve Gibson IS our club. I support Boro, Steve Gibson and then the playing staff.
Do the right thing Sunderland fans, stand up for the image and morality or your club. It is much more important than anything else. Do you want to be the club who chants ‘Adam Johnson, he shags who he wants’ or the club that took a stand against the CEO who morally bankrupted the club?