A COUPLE of minutes into Michael Beale’s press conference on Thursday afternoon, and the lights went out because of a power cut at the Academy of Light. Sometimes, these things really do write themselves.

‘From light to darkness’. ‘Beale fighting to prevent the lights going out on his own Sunderland career’. ‘Why the Black Cats desperately need a spark’. When it comes to Sunderland at the moment, anything that can go wrong is unravelling at a rate of knots.

Rightly or wrongly, Beale finds himself at the heart of it all, the lightning rod for everything that is deemed to be inadequate at the club. And both on and off the pitch, there has been plenty to go at in the last couple of months.

From the unpopular dismissal of Tony Mowbray to the even more unpopular appointment of Beale through the farcical build-up to the derby game against Newcastle United and on to last weekend’s miserable home defeat to Hull City that made it four defeats from seven on Beale’s watch, you don’t have to look too far to find a stick with which to beat Sunderland’s embattled head coach.

Is that fair after just a month in charge? The reality is that with the pressure mounting, and the fractious atmosphere in danger of boiling over at any stage, it doesn’t really matter either way. We are where we are, and as he heads into tomorrow’s home game with Stoke City, Beale accepts he is fully in the firing line.

“People didn’t want me here in the first place,” said the former Sunderland and QPR boss, once the press conference resumed with an old-fashioned huddle around a table in the foyer at the training ground. “You can say afterwards it’s about style or this and that, but let’s cut to the chase, people didn’t want me.

“I’ll come and do the work, and ultimately, we will win games or we won’t. The reality is that there wasn’t a feelgood factor about me coming in. It’s fine, I’m not crying over it, I’m a big boy. But when people are personal, they’ve lost straight away.

“If people want to criticise the way the team is playing, I’ll take that. But in the last two games, we’ve played against two good sides, who weren’t better than us. I’m allowed that view. If we had a bit more presence in the final third, or we had one of the injured players, we would have won at least one of those games.”

The reference to ‘personal’ insults is interesting and is a theme Beale was keen to revisit during the rest of the interview session. Aware of his unpopularity amongst a large section of the Sunderland fanbase, the 43-year-old could have opted for contrition. He could have refused to engage in a discussion over the way in which he is viewed.


Instead, he clearly wanted to tackle things head on. Criticise his tactics or personnel selection, and that is fair game. Stray into more personal attacks, and a line has been crossed.

“If it’s about football, fine,” continued Beale. “I feel I deserve a little bit more respect because my journey deserves that, but if people don’t want to give it then that’s fine.

“I have to get on with the job. If you spend 16 years at Chelsea and Liverpool, you know what expectations are. I was a young coach who went across to Brazil, so I’m not worried about taking on pressure. I’ve just been at a massive football club (Rangers) before I came here.

“If it’s about your job it’s about your job, but if it’s about anything else….look, I can’t change my accent or where I’m from. I’m proud of where I’m from.”

The Northern Echo: Sunderland head coach Michael BealeSunderland head coach Michael Beale (Image: Michael Beale)

So, does Beale really believe that his accent is acting as a barrier to being accepted by the Sunderland fans? Newcastle United had their ‘Cockney Mafia’ period when a narrative built up that key members of the hierarchy were unpopular because of their London links, but the anger directed at the likes of Mike Ashley, Dennis Wise and Derek Llambias was always about far more than the way they talked.

Sunderland fans have adopted plenty of southerners as club heroes – Kevin Ball, Kevin Phillips, and Jermain Defoe to name just three – so surely a London accent is not the key factor at work here?

“I haven’t worked in London for ten years, but obviously I am from South London,” said Beale. “Six years in Liverpool, four-and-a-half in Glasgow, a year in Brazil. My accent hasn’t changed. I am happy to be criticised if we can’t score goals or repeatedly make mistakes, but that one is a bit off.

“When I say I am bemused, everyone knows we haven’t got the biggest budget. Everyone knows where we have come from in the last two years – play-offs to get up, and we were not the most outstanding team in League One. A late run to the play-offs last year.

“This year, we are ahead of schedule. We are not one of the top four and the ‘haves’, we have had a change of manager for whatever reason. It is time to get behind the team. Get behind the players.”

And that is Beale’s abiding message ahead of today’s game with Stoke – think what you like about me, but back the team on the pitch.

“We have lost two tough games, and I don’t think the performances were terrible,” said Beale. “Anyone saying they are, I can’t get on board with that. I think you are throwing negativity at the youngest team in the league, with one of the lowest budgets in the league.

“You are just throwing negativity at a football team who don’t deserve it. I think sometimes I could say less, because I could be less honest, but that is not the sort of guy I am.”