On This Day, in 1966...
A legend is born - welcome to the world, Niall John Quinn!
Yes, today is the birthday of a Sunderland legend - my hero - Quinny.
54-year-old. Wow... where has the time gone? It feels like two minutes since he played for Sunderland; since I was an eight-year-old lad stood on my seat in the North Stand wearing a red and white shirt with ‘ Quinn 9’ on the back.
I’ve still got photos of me with him at the Boldon Branch player of the year dos - back then, it was common for the first team players to attend these functions and mix with supporters, joining them for a night on the drink. Take me back to a time before smartphones...
My abiding memory of him is actually from one of those supporter’s events, at the SOL. I was stood at the bar next to my dad, proudly wearing my blue away shirt, when out of nowhere I felt a tap on my shoulder. As I turned round I just saw a pair of green trousers.
“Alright, little Quinny?”
I looked up, and staring back down at me was this giant of a man.
Of course, I was utterly starstruck. I didn’t know what to say!
Anyways, that’s enough about me. Let’s take a look back at his fantastic career.
Where it all started...
Born in Dublin, Ireland to Billy and Mary Quinn, Niall grew up in a sporting family - his father was an All-Ireland winning Tipperary hurler, as were his uncles on his mother’s side.
It was inevitable that he was going to become a sportsman, though his path could have been entirely different had he made a different decision as a teenager.
Niall was a keen Gaelic footballer, and also played ‘soccer’ and Hurling for Dublin. In fact, he captained a Dublin colleges GAA side that toured Australia.
And having played in the 1983 All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship Final, he was offered a contract to move to Australia and play Aussie Rules Football, but he turned down the opportunity in favour of pursuing a career in ‘proper’ footy.
After a failed trial with Fulham, he was eventually offered a professional contract by London giants Arsenal in 1983, and initially flitted between playing up top and at centre half.
From there, he never really looked back.
Forging a career in the game
Having scored for fun at reserve level, he was handed his first team debut by Don Howe and even made the Republic of Ireland senior squad. Howe left and was replaced by George Graham, but Niall wasn’t able to establish himself as a first team regular and, in 1989, he submitted a transfer request as he wanted to go and play regularly elsewhere.
He then landed at Manchester City in 1990, scoring on his debut against Chelsea, and from there he never really looked back - playing 245 times for the Citizens, scoring 78 goals.
It was at City where Niall’s injury troubles really started - he did his ACL during the 1993/94 season, which saw him fall slightly out of favour and down the pecking order.
His injury actually saw him miss out on playing in the 1994 World Cup in the USA, and eventually City decided to move Quinny along in a bid to reduce their wage bill.
How different things could have been, though - he was close to moving abroad to Sporting Lisbon of Portugal, but after a fee was agreed he and the club failed to agree on a contract, and instead he remained at Maine Road for the time being.
Then, Niall’s life changed - some might say for the better!
Niall’s Indian summer
Peter Reid, in attempt to add experience and quality to a Sunderland squad sorely lacking in both, signed Niall ahead of our first season in the Premier League in the summer of 96.
The fee at the time was believed to be around £1.3m - a club record - but his inability to stay fit during the campaign was ultimately detrimental to the fortunes of the team, going down at the first attempt following a last-day defeat at Wimbledon, despite amassing forty points.
Quinn has said since he actually considered retiring after that season but, boy, we’re glad he didn’t. The arrival of the diminutive Watford striker Kevin Phillips lit a spark under Quinn, who had something of a career renaissance through his pairing with the future England forward.
Quinny bagged 15 goals in that first season alongside SuperKev, and having lost in the play-off final - a game Quinn scored in - Sunderland blew away the rest of the teams in the first division in the following season, amassing a record points haul, with Quinny netting on 21 occasions along the way.
Despite nearing the end of his career, with a list of injuries as long as legs, Quinny showed no signs of letting up and in that first season back in the top flight he played in almost every game, scoring 14 times in 37 league appearances.
The following two campaigns were less successful for Niall in front of goal, but he still managed to feature in almost every game in both campaigns, netting a decent haul considering his age (7 in 2000/01 & 6 in 2001/02).
Sadly, Niall’s last season wasn’t an enjoyable one. He barely played and was powerless to stopping the club dropping out of the top flight, with the club relegated at the end of the 2002/03 season with an embarrassing point total of 19.
He retired, aged 36, having had a fantastic career both domestically and internationally.
92 caps for his beloved Ireland cemented him as an all-time Irish footballing hero, retiring then as their all-time leading goalscorer with 21 goals.
His testimonial game, played between Sunderland and the Republic of Ireland international team, was held at the Stadium of Light in 2002 - Niall famously donated all of the proceeds to children’s charities both in Sunderland and Ireland, an act which earned him an MBE.
Come on... back you come!
After retiring he briefly took up a coaching role with the club, made a host of media appearances as a TV pundit and commentator, released an autobiography, and then after kicking around the house in his duds for a bit...
... he decided to put together a consortium to buy Sunderland from Bob Murray.
Picking the club up at its lowest ebb, Quinny - acting as Chairman - swept the entire city up on his magic carpet; an unforgettable ride that saw us return back to the top flight in the most dramatic of fashions. He tried being manager for a bit, realised he wasn’t very good at it, so went out and brought Roy Keane in as manager.
With Keane in charge, Quinny’s Sunderland signed a boatload of quality Championship players using Drumaville’s money - who can forget that deadline day? - and flew up the league, eventually claiming the Championship trophy on the final day of the season.
Sunderland remained in the top flight for ten consecutive seasons until we eventually succumbed to relegation, but the journey all started with Niall as the ambitious figurehead of the club, leading us out of troubled waters back into the Premier League in our first season.
I’ve gone on a bit here and I haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know but it’s nice to look back and remember what this guy achieved for Sunderland, isn’t it?
He’s a true legend and I have no doubt he’ll have a statue outside the SOL some day.
True story: I once started an online campaign to have a stand named after him when he left the club back in 2012. It gained tens of thousands of signatures and loads of media traction, but Niall modestly turned down the offer. In hindsight it was probably a bit emotional and daft, but I love him dearly... I wanted the man to be recognised!
Anyways - happy birthday, Niall. You’ll always be my favourite.