RR: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. I’ve just been on with your mate, Mr Owers!
DO: Gary’s my best mate. He has been ever since we met. We keep in touch at least two or three times a week and I get down when I can.
RR: You guys came through the ranks together?
DO: Aye, we started as schoolboys together and became best mates cos we were in the hostel together on the sea front. It was under McMenemy that I started my YTS and we all lived in one of the town houses on the sea front.
RR: Denis Smith came in following relegation, of course, and he gave you your debuts when we were in the old Third Division...
DO: Gary made his debut a bit before me, cos he’s nearly two years older than me!
But Denis gave me my debut, yeah. I was a year ahead of schedule and in the first team changing room come the beginning of pre-season. I’d only started ten reserve games and he called me into his office after training to tell me I’d be starting against Southend the next night.
Denis put his trust in youth - myself, Gary, Paul Atkinson, Gordon Armstrong - and he brought Marco Gabbiadini with him, who performed brilliantly with Eric Gates.
It was a Tuesday night, and we beat them 7-0. I’ll never forget it. Gatesy scored four, Atky scored two and Gabbers scored. I had to come off after about 70/80 minutes with cramp. The nerves were just getting to me; the whole occasion.
So I’m indebted to Denis for giving me my debut when I was 17 years old.
RR: Must have been a special night!
DO: Honestly, it was a dream come true. I’d worked hard to get there but I was proud cos my Mam and Dad were there with my sisters, and virtually everybody from our village!
Just a dream come true, Mark. You support your local club and you play for them, y’know. I’ve always said if I’d only played once for Sunderland, that would have been it, but, y’know, I played quite a bit more.
RR: You did! But Denis had a decent back line then, with the likes of John Kay and John MacPhail, both of whom he’d signed, and Gary Bennett.
DO: Ah, John Kay, he was mad!
But, aye, he brought Monty - John MacPhail - in and basically told me to watch what he did. Monty was a solid 8-out-of-10 every week type of defender, and, like you say, he had Benno alongside him. I got the odd game when one of those weren’t playing.
1987 - a lifetime ago, as Gary says.
RR: You got a bit of a run at left-back, though.
DO: I blame Denis for that as well. I had one bad game when I was 18 year old and got pilloried for it. Denis should have stood by me. Me and Denis laugh about it now.
Ipswich Town had this midfielder, David Hill, and he tortured us all night. A home game and it knocked me, confidence-wise. After that it was just a case of gradually getting back into the first team fold and I started playing left back.
The boo-boys got on me back for a while at Roker and one of my mates said to me, just stop with the nitty-gritty and start whacking people! Which I did, and after that the confidence came back and then I think Bally got injured one game and I ended up back in centre-half.
RR: So a few different roles and a bit stop-start ‘til Reid arrived?
DO: Aye. I think I had a spell in central midfield at one stage under Crozza. The coach at the time, Bobby Ferguson, just said “put him in centre mid.” Fergie was brought in by Butcher and he was a good influence on me.
But, yeah, just ups and downs until Reidy came in and put confidence in me and it just grew from there, to be fair.
RR: It must be hard when you’re getting booed. For a young lad it’s all about confidence, surely? I remember a young right back, Paul Williams, getting hammered by Lee Sharpe when we played Man Utd and he never played again. Bit different, but confidence is everything for a young lad.
DO: Aye, it is, especially when you’re giving your all.
When I knew I was playing on the Saturday, I couldn’t sleep cos the pressure, you know everybody - my family and friends were all Sunderland supporters going to every game. Dad worked down pit, which was pressure, but when you’re playing in front of all your mates, your family and friends, and you want to win, well, it is a lot of pressure. So when people start booing you and stuff, it’s not nice.
But I came through that. It was a bit of a roller-coaster, y’know. I started well, but then I went through a bit of a slump and then, the back end, the years were brilliant for me ‘til I got injured.
I’ve played for Sunderland and my family are proud of me and no-one can take that away from me.
RR: After Denis and Malcolm Crosby, Terry Butcher got the manager’s job. How was he with you?
DO: I loved him as a player, but when he went upstairs he just changed.
He got everybody off his side. He upset Gary, he upset Gordon, he said “I want to sell these” - you can’t do that to your best players.
Terry had a nightmare as a manager, but I loved him as a person and as a player. He was crocked by the time he came to Sunderland but you could see how he’d played so many times for England.
But as a man-manager, he just lost the dressing room.
RR: And then came Mick Buxton, of course.
DO: Mick was old school. He was a lovely bloke, but he was there as a favour to Bob Murray, I think, cos he knew Bob really well.
And obviously you mentioned Crozza who was there before them both and did well for a while - I can’t remember the amount of managers I’ve had! It was rollercoaster time.
RR: And so to Reidy. What did you all think when he came in? He was only going to be there for a short time, wasn’t he?
DO: Yeah, he came in - I remember him walking in. We nearly went down - 7 games to go and then Reidy kept us up. He was unbelievable -Reidy and Sacko.
I was in awe of him. He was involved in the first ever sending off in an FA Cup final with Kevin Moran, and the ‘86 world cup with Maradona, the hand of God and all that, but he came in and he was just one of the lads.
First thing he did, I’ll never forget it. We had a training session, like 5-a-side, and he joined in and I’m thinking I’m playing with this lad who’s an absolute legend.
At the end he says “right lads, tomorrow I’m taking you all out for a Chinese”. So we all went down to the Canton Diner at Seaburn. We all thought he was taking the mick! But he said “right, get what you want lads. Have as much drink as you want, we’ll not train til Friday”.
He just galvanised the whole squad and us, as a group, we used to go out a lot, but we realised he was just one of us. And that was it, he just got us playing for him and it just took off from there. He did it all the time - he used to take us away to Manchester; he was just one of us.
It speaks a lot for Peter, and Sacko was the same.
RR: Thankfully, he stayed a lot longer than seven games. That second season was something special! Was he the best manager you played for?
DO: Definitely, mate. If Reidy liked you, he loved you. But if he didn’t, he hated you. That was it. Same with Sacko. So I made sure he loved us!
Obviously Brace came on board. I knew Brace from earlier days, and Pop Robson - they were just a great team; it was just a joy to play for him.
He knew if you weren’t putting it in. He knew. Straight away. And Sacko was the same. But if you were putting it in, there was an arm around you, well done and all that, even if you made a mistake.
They were just football men and knew football inside out.
RR: Reid started to play you more regularly?
DO: Aye, Bally got injured and I went back to centre-back.
When Bally was back, he had to get him in the side cos he was our leader. So Reid stuck him in midfield with Brace and that was it; that was the catalyst. We were unbeaten for a lot of the time that year.
The year we went up, when Reidy took over, to go up with the squad we had, he said it’s the best achievement he’s had in football. That says a lot cos all we had was basically local, young lads who wanted to play with the club. I think we only bought a couple of players - David Kelly - so we went up with the side that almost got relegated the year before.
Then we were so unlucky to go down the next year, to go down with 40 points. That was gutting, to be fair. But, great times and I’ll never forget them.
RR: You had a few partners, didn’t you? You played with Anton Rogan and then, of course, Andy Melville came in...
DO: Rogy is a great lad and was more a left-back, but, no disrespect to him, he wasn’t a centre-half. But he got put in that position and he got us to Wembley playing centre-half.
But me and Mel were like two peas in a pod - proper laid back. We never, ever had an argument on the pitch. We just used to laugh at each other.
I knew what he was doing and he knew what I was doing. In a funny sort of way, we were the same type of people: laid back, we both liked to get on the ball, and Mel was the best reader of the game I’ve ever seen. And he used to say the same about me. So we didn’t even have to talk during a game - it was weird really. We’re still mates, and he said the same.
Actually, I think we had maybe one argument and then started laughing at each other!
RR: That was a great time for you, I guess, and then you got your own chant!
DO: First time I ever heard it was a league cup game against Watford. I was warming up and these two lads were shouting “who needs Cantona when we’ve got Dickie Ord!”
I’d started getting some confidence back and started doing some skills and all that, and someone’s come up with that and then it just grew from there. The season we went up it was all over Roker Park.
It actually came on Channel Four one night, about 10pm, and this gospel choir started singing it. Gary phoned us up and I was like “you’re tappin’ the water” but I put it on and there they were… “who needs Cantona...” It was surreal, honestly. And then all the T-shirts came out and that.
RR: You bagged a few goals in your time. I spoke to Lee Howey the other week and in his book he mentions your full-pitch celebrations when you scored against Grimsby.
DO: Ah, Lee’s a great lad, like. But, aye, we won 1-0 at home and I got the goal. I couldn’t breathe for the rest of the game after that!
RR: What did you all think when Reid signed Lee Clark? Was it a bit of a shock, signing a real Newcastle fan to play for Sunderland?
DO: Lee was a great lad, but aye, it was. He’d just been picked for England (1997 Tournoi de France squad) at the time.
He was under a bit of pressure and I remember ringing him one Sunday and just told him to get himself over and we’d have a pint. Me and him just got on like a house on fire. Obviously I was Sunderland and he’d been Newcastle all his life, but he was a great player.
He was a lovely lad, but just had a nightmare with what happened. There was no malice in it all - he was a lovely lad. He gave 100% every time he went out.
He and Bally got on really well. Reidy told Bally to just sit and that allowed Clarkie to go and do what he’d always done and he did great in the last third. Him, Kev and Niall were great in the final third.
RR: Ah, yes, Kevin Phillips - another Sunderland great that you played with!
DO: I remember him walking in for his medical at the old Charlie Hurley centre and I was doing early pre-season following my injury and I said to the physio “who’s that like?” He was just a little lad! He’s only about 5”6. “He’s the new signing” he said. “Joking, aren’t you?” I said “Who is he, like?”
Sacko used to do all the 5-a-sides in training and you couldn’t get near Kev - he just used to score for fun, even in training. So I used to try and kick him everywhere. Sacko then put us on the same side so I couldn’t kick him!
RR: That’s hilarious! You might have stopped him winning the Golden Boot!
DO: Unbelievable. That’ll not happen again!
But Kev, if he got half a yard, he’d score for fun. Just a natural talent. The goals against Chelsea - I just watched them last night. I was behind the goal when he scored them both - unbelievable.
RR: You’ve played with some big names up front – Kev, obviously, but Eric Gates, Marco Gabbiadini, and you played with Kieron Brady for a time?
DO: Gatesy was a very funny man. He just used to hammer John MacPhail all the time. Monty was the worst dressed person I’ve ever met in my life. Gates used to come out with the one liners and hammer him.
Kieron was the best trainer I’ve ever seen. Not the best trainer, but the best player I’ve ever seen in training. He used to do things like Messi and no-one could get near him. Unbelievable.
Marco is the best player I’ve seen play for Sunderland. Do you remember the game where he hammered Bruce and Pallister? In that 6-month period he was the best player in England.
RR: So, just going back to you and Andy Melville, that seemed a strong partnership, so why did Reid switch to Jody Craddock and Darren Williams?
DO: It was the first year at the stadium and I knew I had a problem.
It was the last game ever at Roker Park against Everton and we won 3-0 and I went down and I felt my hamstring, but it wasn’t that; it was my back. That was the start of it.
The following season I couldn’t get over it and I pulled Reidy in and said “look, I’m really struggling”. I think it was after about 13 games, so he said “well, just have a rest”.
Then he dropped Mel, cos I think he had a bit of a mare against somebody, and that’s when he stuck Jody and Darren in. After that they started flying, so we couldn’t get back in. Credit to the two lads, cos they were brilliant.
RR: And then you left didn’t you? How did the move to QPR come about?
DO: I went to QPR, Mark, and I shouldn’t have gone. I didn’t want to go; Reidy didn’t want us to go, but I knew I was gonna struggle to get in.
Ray Harford was my Under-21 manager at England and he was assistant to Dalglish at Blackburn. He was a great bloke and I loved him. He rang us from QPR and he offered me a 5-year contract on a lot of money.
But I didn’t really want to go; I had a young family at the time. But I went down and spoke to him and he spoke to my wife and she just says “go for it”, so I did.
Then I got injured in my first training session and that was through my back. I had 6 operations through my knee and I just had to retire after two years. It was a nightmare; nightmare, mate.
I should have stayed. Worst mistake I ever made going down there. No disrespect to QPR, cos they’re a great club and offered me a job to stay on as coach, but I had a young family back in the north and I had to move back up.
RR: You’ve played with some great names in Sunderland history. Any that stand out?
DO: Frank Gray!
RR: Wow, not what I was expecting!
DO: He’s my hero, Frank, I loved him!
On my debut he was so cool. He’s a lovely lad and he just says” Dickie, just enjoy it”. I played left side centre-half on my debut and he was left back and he just kept smiling at me and that got me through.
I was in awe of him as well; doing what he’s done.
His warm-up was just sitting on the seat in the changing room and keeping the ball up with his left foot. He just used to keep it up and talk to people! I’m thinking this is unreal, but that was his warm up.
RR: Has the game changed a lot now, then?
DO: It’s all money now, Mark. It was enjoyable when we played. You turn Sky on and it’s just money. You can see half of them not even trying. The atmosphere is just not there.
I fell a little bit out of love with the game, to be honest. My two sons still go down and they tell me what’s going on. Bally gets them tickets, which is great for me, and I still keep in touch with him - it’s brilliant that he’s still an ambassador for the club cos he’s a diamond guy.
But it’s changed from our day - like Gary says, it’s a lifetime ago.
RR: What do you make of the side now, then? Anyone standing out for you?
DO: The kid Honeyman, I really like him.
Gary was chief scout for Motherwell and he had me as his north-east scout and I was watching Honeyman a lot and I can see that he’s got a bit of passion and he wants to do well for the shirt.
If we do go down, which looks more than likely now, I think we’re gonna have to do a ‘Denis Smith’ and we’re gonna have to invest in the kids. What’s the point of having an Academy if we’re not going to trust them?
George is a local lad and the fans need to get behind these lads. Tom Beadling was worth a shout, too. I told Gary to sign him.
RR: Finally, if we do go down and Coleman leaves, do you think we could get the current Torquay manager?! He might need an able assistant!
DO: Gary would take it. Me and Gary would get the passion back!
I was managing in Durham and I loved it. I was there for years. I was involved with them for about 10 years. I played for them for a year and we got to the semi-final of the Vase. I couldn’t walk like! Billy Cruddace was the manager at the time and just said come on board with me, so I was there for years and ran the sixth form. It was great!
Bally, Gary and Ord - it’s the way forward!