Even before the latest twist in the high profile management saga of the team up the road, with the hapless Ruud Gullit the latest potential victim of the relentless all-consuming quest for a trophy. I already had serious nagging worries about the possibility of a Reid departure from the SoL if things went against us at some time this season. With the team picking up where they left off last term and playing the type of sexy football that we only dreamt about in the dark days of Mick Buxton (poor soul, I’m sure his mam loved him), it may seem inappropriate to talk about dark things such as sacking our smiling scouser. However, the quiet talk of the possibility is never far from the whispering nooks of Wearside and County Durham hostelries, especially the failure to secure the services of the high quality midfielder we so desperately need, is discussed amongst the faithful.
I am of long memory, having watched my first match in 1968 and being murkily aware of intrigues at Roker Park in my infancy before that. In the words of the late, great Lord Stockton “We’ve never had it so good” (not since the 1950s anyway, which, as they say, is before my time). I am a believer that Peter Reid can get us to the Promised Land, keep us there, get us to finish top six and even make Europe. I have no doubts because he has proven it with a hopelessly chaotic Manchester City (City would have competed in Europe but for the ban on English clubs). We will have our ups and downs with Peter Reid along the way, but when things go awry I hope we keep our nerve. I was in disbelief when some of our fans spat at Reid at the beginning of last season. It seems such a short time since things were a lot worse both on the field, when we watched with desperate hope and optimism, the seemingly endless home draws and narrow defeats, and off, when we stood in (let’s be honest) a dilapidated stadium. The early 1997 run of four goals per home game in a super stadium seemed a million miles away. I want to scream to our new 20,000 (very welcome) fans how lucky they now are.
I can remember Denis Smith, caught like a rabbit in headlights after he was told we were to take Swindon’s promotion place. He clearly didn’t have a clue what to do – and he didn’t have the team or the Board’s support either. I can remember the clueless Terry Butcher (compare the £600,000 spent on Shaun Cunnington with a similar price paid for Kevin Phillips by Reid). Then there was poor Malcolm Crosby, coerced into a job by smiling Des Lynam on MOTD during the cup run. And Mick Buxton. Oh those happy years, drifting around the relegation places of the First Division (Second Division in old money, and still the most appropriate name). Going to matches saying “There’s nowt in this division, if only we could win the next three home games, we’d be challenging for a play-off place.” But we never did – until Peter Reid came.
I did take pleasure in watching Sunderland. Win or lose, we experienced relentless drama and emotion and I wouldn’t swap it for any club or anything. But I’d rather these days with Peter Reid at the SoL than those days with Messrs Smith, Butcher, Crosby and Buxton. I don’t lack ambition. I want to see big name signings, and I am definitely not sure that Peter Reid can turn us into championship contenders. He will need to deliver that truly world-class midfielder and show me the next generation of strikers beyond Phillips and Quinn, before I am convinced. But say we have a run of bad results, or, God forbid, miss out on promotion again this year and there is a clamour for Reid to go, ask yourself this; who would you get to replace him? And would they be guaranteed to be better?
I believe the team up the road have made a serious mistake in replacing Dalglish with Gullit, although in the short term it may be a good move. It is well proven that a club without stability and continuity in management will get nowhere. I have to say that Dalglish’s reign has been a disaster for their first team and that his PR is even worse than Bob Murray’s. That is why Gullit will bring a short-term improvement. But long term? I would have thought that the North East’s big two (sorry Boro. I can’t believe your resurgence to be anything more than temporary) would have learned about the dangers of the over-expectations of fans, creating pressure in the press and boardroom and driving the managerial merry-go-round. What right have they got to loyalty from Gullit? A man who pursues personal success the continental way – club-hopping every couple of years. The Newcastle share price shows the City likes managerial instability just as the fans mistrust Hall and Shepherd.
In my opinion, success at Sunderland has been impossible over the past 25 years because of the internal squabbling in the boardroom (Lawrie McMenemy – surely even his mam couldn’t have loved him – pointed that out), lack of interest from chairmen and directors and attentions being distracted by the ground move. But at long last we have a board and management that are united and ambitious. We have a club that is developing in quality and depth and fabric from top to bottom. Things are beginning to feel right on and off the pitch. Our transformation has been frustratingly low key (largely because of a lack of big name signings and lack of Premiership status), but maybe that’s a good thing because it has been slow, sure and well founded. However, whilst our neighbours, by constantly changing their manager, may be re-entering the vicious downward spiral that plagued both clubs since the 50s. I am certain we are going the other direction.
Impatience of fans is the cause of my nervousness. Let’s show that we are better than the Toon Army under Keegan and that, just because we don’t score in the first 15 minutes at home, or score three goals a game, we don’t get on the team’s back. Sometimes it has to be a dour 1-0 win, at sometime we will lose two on the trot at home. We’ve waited a long time for success and it is coming as inevitably as Kevin Phillips’ next goal. So, here’s my plea. If things do go bad for a spell let’s not shout for Reid’s head, it’s far too soon for that. Let’s wait until we’re consistently top half of the Premiership before we judge him on his ability to take us further. It would be great if we could have a manager that became a legend, not by one successful cup run, but by a long reign of consistent success and results à la Shankley. Peter Reid is our best chance for decades of being that man