Peter Reid took Sunderland from the bottom of Division One to seventh in the Premier League – and receiving £500 from the chairman for a night out was the key to it all.
Sunderland’s most successful manager since Bob Stokoe in the seventies, Reid twice led Sunderland to the First Division title during his seven and a half years in charge, and only just failed to lead them into Europe, too.
There were any number of highlights along the way, in particular during the three seasons between 1998 and 2001 when the Wearsiders won the First Division with a record points total and then twice finished seventh in the Premier League.
But Reid believes the most pivotal moments of his reign were back in 1995 during his first few months in charge.
Initially, he had been appointed caretaker manager at Roker Park, charged with the task of staving off relegation to the third tier.
Such a scenario had appeared extremely possible when Mick Buxton was sacked in late March, but Reid steered the Wearsiders to three wins and three draws from their final seven games to beat the drop.
And it is the building blocks he put in place during that seven-game spell that Reid says were crucial to everything Sunderland achieved in the subsequent years.
“People can pick out wins we had at big clubs in the Premier League or the promotion-winning season, but I would argue the key game in my entire time at the club came early on, against Swindon in one of the final games of the 1994-95 season.
“Steve McMahon was in charge of Swindon at the time and it was a crunch match. Both teams were in the relegation mix and it was a case of the winner of this game would probably stay up and the other would go down.
“Martin Smith got the winner for us in a 1-0 victory and I remember thinking in that game that the final whistle would never come. It was so tense, so draining, but the end result gave us a platform for what was to follow.”
Key to the turnaround
Sunderland had lost six of their last seven games under Buxton before he was sacked, but rather than any great tactical innovation, Reid puts the turnaround in form at least partly down to a team night out with the chairman’s money.
“The team was in a really bad position when I arrived,” he says. “They were fourth from bottom of what is now the Championship and in serious danger of going down.
“One of my first tasks when I arrived was to build up a spirit among the players, and one of the first things I did was take everyone out for a big meal with £500 of the chairman Bob Murray’s money in my back pocket.
“I wanted to get off to a good start and make a positive impression on the dressing room as they were not in a great place confidence wise.
“We must have had a good night as I ended up spending £950, but that kind of night helped to bring people together after what had been a difficult season.”
With survival ensured, Reid was handed the manager’s job on a permanent basis and duly led the club to the First Division title in his first full season in charge.
They were relegated straight back down and lost in that play-off final against Charlton the following season after just missing out on automatic promotion, but it’s a signing Reid made in that summer following promotion that he picks out as being crucial to what the club would go on to achieve.
“By the time I left, we were firmly established in the Premier League and operating out of a new stadium and a new training ground, so things came a long way. There were a lot of achievements in there.
“You need to bring the right people into a football club to ensure spirit is what you want it to be, and signing a player like Niall Quinn was massive for that.
“I played with Niall when I was at Manchester City, brought him to Sunderland and he was a huge influence on and off the pitch. He was working for the club and not himself and that is what you want in a player.
“Niall was also a fine footballer. Yes he looked awkward at times, but he had an excellent touch and a great football brain, which made him a very effective player both at club level and with Ireland.
“The key for me at any football club was having a good dressing room, and when you had a guy like Niall Quinn around, that was guaranteed because he was great to bring players together and help to generate a positive spirit.
“Players like Niall were vital in taking the club forward to the point where we became a strong Premier League team and it would be great to see the club getting back to those levels in the near future.”
An age-old problem
Reid was eventually sacked by Sunderland in October 2002 after a disappointing 2001-02 campaign was followed by a poor start the following term.
Despite the club’s success, he faced the age-old problem of struggling to convince players to move to the North East and describes it as a “real issue” for any manager in charge.
“I’ve seen managers of Sunderland, Newcastle and Middlesbrough make similar comments down the years,” he says. “There is nothing you can do about it, whatever you say to players you might want to sign.
“I loved my time up there. The North East is one of the finest parts of England and if you love football, there is no better place in the world because the fans are just fanatical and live for their clubs. The people up there are just incredible.
“But for whatever reason, and most of the time it is because players and their wives or girlfriends want to live in London or wherever, you get to the point where you feel a player is arriving and then it doesn’t happen.
“If they took the plunge and lived up there, they’d realise how beautiful it is, but some people never get beyond that point.”
By Kevin Palmer