The fallout of the Adam Johnson trial continued last week with the resignation of Sunderland CEO Margaret Byrne. Although this decision can perhaps come as no surprise, considering the mounting pressure the club was under to reveal more of what they knew before the trial commenced last month, questions still remain over the club’s handling of the case.
The decision taken to keep playing Johnson was seemingly judged as a necessary in the short term but will inevitably leave a nasty aftertaste in supporters’ mouths for some time to come. The need to avoid relegation has simply become too irresistible as the financial rewards have increased beyond comprehension, with the club’s moral standing in the community regrettably compromised.
From the moment the player admitted to one count of grooming and one charge of sexual activity with a minor, media scrutiny quickly shifted towards his former employers. The club will be the first admit that its initial response was short of the mark and was rightly criticised by those amongst the football fraternity.
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Amongst all the vitriol and unseemly antics seen at football grounds, it must be remembered that clubs are keen to promote a family friendly experience and are looked upon by their respective fans as a symbol of their community. This is where Sunderland have undoubtedly failed in their duty to look at the bigger picture, hiding behind the veil that is ‘innocent before proven guilty’ and hoping the saga would just blow over. They hugely underestimated the amount of press coverage the hearing received and will now hope the exodus of one its own at boardroom level can put an end to the damaging headlines.
That said, many Sunderland fans (including myself) will struggle to believe Byrne following her admission that she was the only one who saw a note confirming Johnson had kissed the victim. Within inner circles, it will be seen as the honourable thing to do and a decision that is necessary for club to save itself from any further damaging publicity.
As we have seen in the past, at clubs like Leeds United with the Woodgate/Bowyer trial, high profile court cases can destabilise a club and the last thing the Stadium of Light club need is any distraction in its effort to survive yet another relegation battle.
Fans will be quietly relieved and in some quarters grateful for Byrne’s decision to step away, although they aren’t stupid enough to realise that she probably wasn’t the only one who knew of Johnson’s admission. No matter how incredibly frustrating Johnson was to watch, he could produce moments of brilliance on the field and it is not inconceivable to think the initial action taken by the club would have been notably different had it been a reserve player in question.