♫ Oh I could fly without wings on the back of Reidy's kings, at three o'clock I'm as happy as can be. 'Cos the good times they are here and the Premiership is near, so watch out World as all of Roker sings....
Cheer up Peter Reid, oh what can it mean, to a Sunderland supporter, to be top of the league....
We once thought of you, as a Scouser dressed in blue, now you're red and white through and through. We've all dreamt of the day, when a saviour would come our way and now we know our dreams are coming true ♫
In the last installment we covered Peter Reid's first chapter as Sunderland boss as he kept Mick Buxton's dismal side out of England's third tier in 1995. Twelve months later and the Rokerites were in the Premiership and were building a new home - a world class stadium on the banks of the Wear.
For many of a certain generation, that promotion season was unbelievably enjoyable. After the dreadful early-to-mid 1990s had all but destroyed the club which had been decaying with alarming rapidity in the previous decade, suddenly Sunderland supporters had something to smile about and the anticipation of progress for a first glimmer in years.
No one should underestimate the impact that Peter Reid had on the club. Two things transformed Sunderland from the creaking rotting thing it had become in the final decade of the 20th century to the bouncing Premier League upstarts it would be by the turn of the millennium - Peter Reid and the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland's 1997 would be the equivalent of Newcastle's 1992 in many ways. The new stadium and the Premier League attracted a fresh generation of supporters - many of whom remain to this day and ensure 40,000-plus crowds are still the norm on Wearside. Take Peter Reid's word for it:
I remember when I came to the club - it was Roker Park and the club was up for sale at about a million pounds. The training ground had portacabins and the car park was full of Minis and Fiestas.
By the time I left there were different cars and a world class stadium, and a new academy training ground - and that is a fact.
That showed the success delivered to those players and that club in those seven-and-a-half years.
Reid's second season at Roker Park was a barnstormer. Sunderland topped the first division in 1995-96 and set themselves for a first foray into the Premier League. But the average gate during the promotion season was still only 17,000. Safety restrictions had curtailed the capacity at Roker to about 21,000 but, in truth, the people still weren't coming.
Large swathes of the traditional red-and-white heartlands of County Durham and South Tyneside had turned black-and-white and headed to the Keegan dreamland at St James Park. Sunderland supporting school kids in those wavering areas became increasingly perplexed as their more fickle classmates developed faux-Geordie accents and talked of going to the 'toon'. It sounds utterly ludicrous now - but it happened.
Newcastle had stolen a five-year march on Sunderland in establishing themselves in the new golden top division in England and as John Hall built his concrete monolith, and named it after himself, Roker Park continued to a die a little every day. 1997, the Premier League, the Stadium of Light and Peter Reid transformed the former Rokerites. But first Reidy had to get the club a team fit to play in the new home being built half a mile to the east.
In the summer of 1995, Peter Reid took the bare bones of the Buxton-Butcher team he had inherited and added sufficient depth to compete in England's second tier. In truth, the club possessed some decent players but the squad had been hamstrung by first the crazy Butcher and then the dour Buxton.
Steve Agnew was added as an experienced head in midfield. John Mullin arrived who had been a bright prospect at Burnley; Paul Stewart was brought in on loan and joined former Magpie David Kelly as additional firepower.
The core of the promotion winning side were those who had already been at the club or of young players making their breakthrough - Melville, Armstrong, Scott, Ball and Atkinson were joined by Russell, Gray, Ord, Bridges and Smith. But Reid added a familiar old head and a young goalkeeper who would become one of the finest in England for a decade to come:
1996 was a fantastic team. We dug in and fought. We were not prolific in goals but were so well spirited, and with the introduction of Paul Bracewell we made it a great team and they deserve the recognition - that team was brilliant.
To be honest, they had no reason to win the championship but they deserve the plaudits. Shay Given was incredible and unfortunately Kenny Dalglish came in for him and the rest is history for Shay.
They got there on pure passion and work ethic, they worked very hard for each other. They over performed you could say.
And in April 1996, as promotion was about to be clinched, a curious track was released into the pop charts - a reworking of the Monkies classic Daydream Believer - and it nearly got into the top-40. Legend retells that the terrace anthem sprung from away trips at the likes of Southend, Grimsby and Oldham as February 1996 gave way to March and Reid's team walloped their way through an unbeaten 18-game run:
I had a great time at Sunderland. The emotion we shared and the humour of the area was amazing. The song 'Cheer up Peter Reid', then 'Paint Your Wagon', even the 'Monkeys Heed' from Newcastle, it was all pure genius banter from the region. There are two great clubs from the area and a healthy competitive nature is in place - sometimes it spills over to personal stuff but aye, this was rare.
Sunderland were in the Premier League. Admittedly, the initial foray was a brief one but wheels had been set in motion to revolutionise the old-fashioned club into a bright bouncy thing with swagger and a big grin:
I remember a guy called Jack Rylie, and he was an old fan - a big cigar was with him all the time - he came up to me and said good luck but ‘you know the manager’s office at Roker - they write the name in chalk’.
There was a passion in the place, we were 4th from bottom when I arrived and there was such a love for a club that had been in the 3rd Division not long since but had a massive history. It grabbed me so hard. Kevin Keegan was having great success up the road and so the challenge had been set for us to get back to where we belonged. And we did.