Who is Charlie Methven? Black Cats boss becomes star of Sunderland ‘Til I Die

One of the major talking points of season one of Netflix ’s Sunderland ‘Til I Die documentary was the club’s chief executive Martin Bain.

The former Rangers chief executive – who was on Wearside from 2016-2018 – was compared to David Brent by viewers.

Bain left Sunderland at the end of the first series when the newly-relegated club was taken over by a consortium fronted by businessman Stewart Donald.

Alongside Donald was Charlie Methven who became the club’s executive director, and he looks set to become one of the stars of series two.

The opening scene sees him … telling staff their club is a “failed, f***** up business” planning to lose £30-40million per year.

"Unless you guys understand that, you’ll never make it in this world.

"This was f*****d, 100 per cent f*****d," he declares. It was on track to become the first large club to go properly bust."

Soon afterwards he tells the camera his role is to “have a vision, to imagine things, to feel things, and then express those feelings into plans, strategies, ideas”.

He then declares he wants to change the walk-out music from Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights, The Apprentice theme which Sunderland had used for more than 20 years. Instead Methven wants something that's "a massive rave, a bit like Ibiza".

But who is Charlie Methven?

Before Sunderland

He was born in Oxfordshire and schooled at Eton before starting a career in journalism. After working at titles including Sporting Life and the Daily Telegraph he moved into PR, co-founding Dragon Advisory Limited in 2011.

Methven is an Oxford United fan, like Donald. In 2014 he led a consortium in a takeover attempt whose plans included building a new stadium.

After being trumped he said: “Obviously from our point of view we are disappointed and we feel that we had a lot to offer but as Oxford United supporters we now want to do as well as possible.”

When asked by Gorkana who his perfect dinner guests would be, he replied: “Margaret Thatcher; Stephen Fry; Graham Ward (my tutor at university who is now Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford). The top British politician, polymath and theologian of my lifetime.

“All bringing very different types of experience, points of view and brain to the party, but – having been lucky enough to have met all three – all very happy to have a few glasses and, contrary to the popular view of Mrs T, courteous enough to disagree without shouting!”

Sunderland executive director

Methven received a 6% share of the club and was appointed its executive director during the 2018 takeover led by Stewart Donald.

Very quickly he started work to help turn the finances around and reconnect the club with its supporters, who had become disillusioned during the final years of Ellis Short’s ownership. The Big Seat Change initiative, where fans, players and staff helped replace the Stadium of Light’s faded pink seats, won the Best Club Marketing Initiative at the 2018 Football Business Awards.

Methven helped Sunderland attract the largest average crowd for a third-tier team at more than 31,000 and the largest League One match attendance at 46,039 for their Boxing Day clash with Bradford City.

At half-time he told the crowd: “I set a challenge to reach 40,000 today and I massively underestimated you!"

Despite this he endured an up and down relationship with Sunderland fans.

In a radio interview in September 2018 he described fans who watch matches via illegal streams in nearby pubs rather than coming to the stadium as “parasites”.

“If you’re a fanatic of your football club and you decide that actually what you’re going to do is you’re going to spend your money on a few pints of lager and watch an illegal stream of the match rather than contributing that money to trying to help your club to be the best it possibly can, you’re not a fan, you’re a parasite,” he said.

He later described the use of the word parasite as “ill-chosen and also misapplied”, saying his “real vitriol is for the local businesses who take a hike off our back”.

He summed up the furore around what he said as: “That was a two-footed challenge when what you need is a straightforward proper tackle.”

In October 2019 he helped secure a £10million investment from US-based FPP Sunderland group.

However that was marred with reports that in a meeting with the Fan Engagement Committee he suggested the investment would be more accepted in the south as people there better understood business.

Afterwards he explained it was a regrettable “off-the-cuff riposte”, saying: "I was repeatedly pressed on the negative implications of a £10m investment I'd secured for the club.

"Exasperated, I reacted intemperately and one of those present subsequently took me to task.”

By this time he was already working his three-month notice period and in December 2019 his resignation from the board was announced by the club.

"This is a really tough decision to make, but for both family and work-related reasons it was something I felt I had to do," said Methven in a statement released by the club.

"My wife and I are expecting our first child in the New Year, and the reality of my day job – which is largely political consultancy – is that the first months of a new government will be very challenging.

"I've been a largely absent husband, father and colleague for nearly two years, as the SAFC project took over most of my life, and it's time that I re-paid those close to me for their patience."

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