Ellis Short, owner of Sunderland AFC, has agreed to sell the club to an international consortium of football investors. The deal, which is subject only to English Football League approval, will see ownership pass to a group led by Stewart Donald, chairman of Eastleigh FC.
Announcing the news, Ellis Short said: “It is no secret that I have been trying to sell Sunderland, but I have waited until the right group came along that have the experience, finances and plan to take this great club back to where it deserves to be.
“Overall, my chairmanship has not gone the way I would have wished; the many high points of a decade in the Premier League have been overshadowed by the low points of the last two terrible seasons. I was therefore determined to ensure that I leave Sunderland in the best possible hands and in the best possible state to turn the corner. To achieve this, higher offers from less qualified buyers were rejected, and I have paid off all debts owed by the club to leave it financially strong and debt free for the first time since years before I owned it.”
“Assuming that Stewart and his group win EFL approval, it only remains for me to wish them, and all associated with the club, the very best for the future. I will be a Sunderland fan for life, and hope to return as a fan to watch them climb back to where they belong.”
Donald, who will now relinquish ownership of Eastleigh, said: “All of us involved in this bid believe that Sunderland represents an extraordinary opportunity. Our group have all been involved in building – or re-building – football clubs to reach their potential and we believe that over the last decade we have acquired the necessary skillsets to overcome the many challenges that will face us at this huge club.”
Aside from his association with Eastleigh, Donald has also been a key behind-the-scenes presence at Oxford United in that club’s revival over the last ten years, as an investor, shirt sponsor and supporters trust committee member.
He added: “Eastleigh and Oxford are different cases to each other and, of course, smaller than Sunderland. The similarity, though, is that there is also a lot that needs to be addressed here, and it needs to be addressed with realism, focus and dedication. For a club with one of the best fanbases, stadium and academies in the UK to find itself in League One is unacceptable.
“We have a carefully thought-through plan to restructure the club, make it sustainable and, with the help of the fans, to restore its sense of pride and re-connect it with the local community. In short, we are rolling our sleeves up to do what needs to be done to ready this club to start competing again.”
Out of respect for the EFL process, neither Sunderland AFC, Ellis Short nor Stewart Donald will be making any further comment on the sale of the club until approval is granted.