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The Reidy Years In His Own Words: The Early Days - 'If You Get A Club, You Build It Upwards'

When Peter Reid first arrived at Sunderland, he was given seven games to avoid a return to England's third-tier. The club was in crisis, fans were revolting and Roker Park was dying. Within two years the club had made its first Premier League foray and would be playing in one of the country's finest new grounds. In reflections captured by Sunderland fan Mark Harrison in 2011, here's the early days in Reidy's own words.


If you get a football club and you get a chance then you can build it upwards.

I had the chance to build a team at Sunderland and that is exactly what we did.

Peter Reid, in conversation in 2011. His words have a familiar ring to them. Whenever a big personality manages a big football club - when their big reign has come to an end, they leave a big void. But the building of the big stuff - how does that begin and where does it come from?

In truth, successive managers since have tried to build something at Sunderland and most of them have failed; and they have all failed to build anything of substance or anything that has lasted for any length of time. And so Sunderland have had 15 managers in the 14 years since Reid left Sunderland.

David Moyes is the latest to set about building this football club upwards. He talks about it most weeks in fact. Whether he can build anything lasting will be decreed by the fates in the coming months and years - if he makes it that far.

Reid discussed his highlights managing Sunderland a few years back. And you can sense the warmth in his words and his pride in the job he did. You can recall the swagger and the grin, the expletives and the joyous early days of his Wearside life as Roker Park gave way to the Stadium of Light.

general view

Reid was the filler between the old and the new. The 15,000 attendance at Roker Park quickly morphed into 40,000 on the site of the old Wearmouth Colliery. Here's how Oldid it, in his own words.

Don't forget, Reidy arrived on an initial 'trial period' at Roker Park, taking over from Mick Buxton's relegation threatened second-tier side in 1995:

Seven games to go and playing against some good teams in the run in - it was going to be tough.

I met the board, and they said would I want to come up and have a chat about the job; and if I kept the club up I would have a shout at the permanent position. It was going to be a challenge after Mick Buxton - who was a good coach and manager - to keep the lads up.

Those seven games would be against Dave Bassett's Sheffield United, Roy McFarland's Derby County, David Pleat's Luton Town, Bruce Rioch's Bolton Wanderers, Steve McMahon's Swindon Town, Jimmy Mullen's Burnley and Alan Buckley's West Brom.

Peter Reid's Sunderland, which is what the club quickly became, only lost one of those games - at Bolton - to maintain their Division One status. Reid quickly became the front man for the Roker establishment, but behind the scenes the club had been dismal for years.

Because, Bob Murray was the powerhouse behind Sunderland AFC. After he had sacked Terry Butcher two years prior, Murray had gone into hiding and pushed fellow board member John Featherstone into the role of chairman. Murray needed to do something to quieten the hoardes who gathered outside the director's entrance to Roker Park with alarming frequency to protest against him. Little did he realise appointing Reid would be eventually be the masterstroke in transforming his club.

Sunderland in the mid-90s had been a wasteland - no money and run by directors without a clue. A succession of egos in the boardroom perpetually battled with each other for no other greater good than puffing their own chests out. They fought at a glorious old ground dropping to bits but with a respectable band of hardy souls who attended in that first season Reid arrived.

Roker Park

It's quite astonishing to think that just over a week before Reid arrived, Sunderland fans held red cards aloft and protested vehemently about the state of the place. Mick Buxton who personified the very word 'incumbent' was the incumbent who had dismally done what he could. But he didn't 'get' it, and so he publicly claimed the protest was "destroying the club". Ten days later he was gone.

Arrive Reid did and he set about trying to set a few things up to enable him to get the measure of his new Roker home:

The chairman at the time was John Featherstone but the power was with Bob Murray, so I agreed a deal. And the agreement was I could bring a few players in, Paul Bracewell was the first I wanted.

Peter Reid's first game in charge was a freshening affair against Dave 'Harry' Bassett's Sheffield United. Bassett's powers were already on the wane and he would resign at the end of the season, with the Blades’ board facing protests of their own. But, Reidy took stock and threw a few things about and Sunderland won, with a goal minutes from time from a fresh-faced 21-year-old:

I came in and basically wanted to see what I had and so I set up a game and gave everyone the chance to impress. I made a few decisions on the day - sometimes you get some luck and things just go your way.

We played against Sheffield Utd and the night before I was in a hotel and the fire alarm went off, two young girls were distressed and I ushered them down. It was only at the game that the girls recognised me and said 'thankyou' - and they were the daughters of Scott Mathieson, the referee.

We kept it really tight and had loads of energy, I threw on Craig Russell - he got into the inside left position; you're thinking, ‘go on’ - and boom, it flew in, in about the 85th minute. We won!

As for Reidy's favourite memory of the old club at the old ground, it came sooner after as his side virtually saved themselves at Roker against Swindon, in a game with desperate significance following a defeat five days prior:

We played Bolton, we played at Burnden Park and got done 1 nil with a goal from McGinley late on after playing so well.

We also played Swindon, McMahon was the manager and that is the game that kept us up - with Martin Smith's goal this is undoubtedly my favourite memory as the gaffer of Sunderland.

And off we went - relegation that season would have been disastrous. But as it was, within two years the club had moved to its new home and were heading back to their second season in the Premier League having flirted with the new division once.

Sunderland rapidly went from the club who looked as it would have no home and disappear into England's third tier, to a Premier League force in just three years, Peter Reid did that. Lessons which can be learnt by the current regime perhaps - "if you get a club, you can build it upwards".

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