Terry Butcher knew full well where the blame lay for the almost-disastrous end to the 1992-93 season. And it wasn’t with him. Or maybe it was. After all, Niall Quinn’s the only Sunderland manager to sack himself – and it’s far, far easier to get rid of everyone else.
Only ten or so days on from that horrendous day at Notts County – Butcher was making serious changes, both on and off the field.
Of course, it’s well remembered the transfers that came in that summer. Bob Murray in a rare show of backing his manager provided funds to secure the signatures of Phil Gray, Derek Ferguson, Andy Melville, Iain Rodgerson and Alec Chamberlain; seemingly marking a new era, a seismic change at the club.
Unfortunately, as was always the case with Murray, he backed the wrong manager at the wrong time. But that’s another story for another day.
Before the deluge of signings arrived at Roker, it was all-change behind the scenes, as Butcher culled his whole backroom team bar one – only physio Steve Smelt (he of the infamous ‘Felt By Smelt’ programme column) surviving.
To be fair to Butcher, he’d inherited the vast majority of the staff. Chief Scout Peter Whinam, a McMenemy appointment who’d somehow survived the Denis Smith era, went, as did reserve team coach Roger Jones, youth team coach Jonathan Trigg and youth development officer Jim Morrow.
They followed Bobby Ferguson out of the door. Ferguson, a former Newcastle full-back, had been Butcher’s coach and manager at Ipswich Town, and had played a key role in Butcher’s arrival as a player at Roker Park.
Appointed to the assistant manager position by Malcolm Crosby the summer before, it was always felt Ferguson had done the dirty on Crossa, and had plotted with Butcher to get the former England captain in the Roker Park hot seat.
A sergeant major-type, Ferguson was deeply unpopular with the supporters – the impression of subterfuge was compounded by some less-than-thinly-veiled criticism of the Roker Park crowd, and it reached the point that ‘We are the Ferguson haters’ became one of the more popular chants of the season.
Rumoured to be arriving in Ferguson’s place was Ian Atkins. The former Sunderland skipper had recently quit after a short spell as manager of Cambridge and was keen to link up with Butcher again – the two had played together at Ipswich.
Atkins did arrive, and Butcher also brought in experienced lower division manager Mick Buxton, a north-east chap, to coach the side. Buxton, of course, would take Butcher’s place in the not-too-distant future.
The final two appointments to complete the new look backroom team saw the return of two club legends. Jimmy Montgomery and George Herd, who’d both previously had spells as coaches at the club, returned to the setup, and – on paper at least – Butcher seemed to have gotten it right, bringing in a team of people who knew the club, the people, and what needed to be done.
On the playing side, it was all change, too. David Rush and Kieron Brady had been made available for free transfer (allegedly after failing to turn up for training in favour of a knees-up in Doncaster) as were Anthony Smith, Martin Gray, Peter Davenport, Brian Mooney, Warren Hawke, Wayne Walls, Ian Patterson and Paul Williams.
John Colquhoun, Gordon Armstrong, Gary Owers, Tony Norman, Tim Carter and Anton Rogan, meanwhile were all told they were available for transfer. Armstrong was immediately linked with a move to Everton, while Owers attracted interest from Sheffield United and Oldham.
Just another day at Sunderland, then.