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On This Day (12 June 1981): Alan Durban appointed as Sunderland’s new manager

On this day 40 years ago, Sunderland chairman Tom Cowie appointed Alan Durban as the club’s new manager.

On this day 40 years ago, 39-year-old Welshman Alan Durban became Sunderland’s 13th (including caretakers) manager.

Durban resigned from his position at Stoke City, where he had been in the hotseat for almost three and a half years to sign a three year contract at Roker Park, where he replaced caretaker manager Mick Doherty, the elder son of legendary player and manager Tommy, after he had taken the job on after the sacking of Ken Knighton and Frank Clark.

It was also revealed that Mick Doherty had been offered another role as assistant manager at another unnamed club but was waiting to discuss his future with the new manager before making any decision.

Sunderland had been without a permanent manager for 60 days and Durban wasted no time in laying out the reasons for switching from Stoke City, where he had just achieved an 11th place finish in the First Division, to Sunderland who had finished 17th and survived the drop by only two points.

The club has never fulfilled its potential, but I feel the club could be as good as any in the country. That eventually means consistently being in Europe.

It’s a complete area of hope. One of my greatest memories was Ivor Allchurch coming back and trying to explain to me all the enthusiasm and grip that the area gives you. If teams like Derby and Forest can do it, there is no reason why Stoke shouldn’t and even more reason why Sunderland should.

During Sunderland’s search for a new the main man on everyone lips was the then Ipswich Town manager Bobby Robson. The future England national team manager had also been heavily linked with the Manchester United job after Dave Sexton was relieved of his duties at Old Trafford in April 1981.

It was reported that a move to the North-West didn’t interest Robson but he was considering the job at Roker Park, even though Ipswich Town had just finished as runners-up to Aston Villa he had been in the job since 1969. This was a fact that had a bearing on Alan Durban eventually signing on the dotted line at Sunderland.

When I read that Bobby Robson had not been interested in the Manchester United job but had wavered over Sunderland, then that really convinced me about the Sunderland job. His comments, and those of other people I spoke to, confirmed I was doing the right thing.

It was widely reported that Bobby Robson was Tom Cowie’s first choice to succeed the sacked Ken Knighton and was one of the main reasons that it had dragged on so long for the club to make a new appointment.

Bobby Robson
Bobby Robson during the UEFA Cup final second leg against AZ Alkmaar in the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam in May 1981
Photo by Monte Fresco/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Robson was offered a 10-year contract worth a mouth watering £100,000-a-year, which in 1981 was staggering, but after being tempted with a return to the North-East, he rejected the offer.

On the same day as Durban was appointed, the fixture lists were released and, as it so often happens in football, showed that Sunderland were set to travel to Portman Road for the opening day of the new season.

Durban’s first press conference also revealed that Steve Whitworth, Barry Dunn, John Hawley, Sam Allardyce and Joe Bolton were all to be removed from the transfer list after being put up for sale by the previous regimes during the season, with the new manager stating they would all get a chance to show him what they could do.

The new manager also hinted that he was expecting a much bigger budget than he was used to:

Occasionally, big crowds win you tight matches. The sort of crowds the North-East get excites me. It would probably mean another three quarters of a million pounds on my expenditure account.

Former Sunderland chairman Sir Tom Cowie

Although chairman Tom Cowie seemed to extinguish any hopes the new manager had of splashing the cash at the press conference whilst unveiling his new appointment:

What he has achieved at his former clubs on tight budgets is admirable. Therefore, he is ideally suited in every respect to take over here in these difficult financial times.

Before his appointment, I obviously looked closely at his track record and it is very impressive - he has worked minor miracles on a very tight budget.

One comment from Alan Durban at his first press conference particularly stuck out...

I don’t know why people have turned down the Sunderland job in the past.

When he was sacked in 1984, he probably had an answer.


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