I have many memories of the big man, but there’s one in particular that stands out.
When I was a kid, my dad was involved with the running of a supporters’ branch, so each year we’d attend the ‘player of the year’ functions that were held at the Stadium of Light.
These were different times - back then, the players had no problem mixing with supporters and sharing a beer. In the days before camera phones, they didn’t have to worry about going viral on social media if they had a few too many, because everyone knows that Quinny loves a Guinness!
I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I remember the shirt I was wearing perfectly: the navy blue, red and white away jersey made by Asics, complete with collar.
Despite the team being filled with heroes, my favourite was always Quinn, even despite the fact we had SuperKev up front. I loved him, but not as much as Niall!
I had “QUINN 9” on the back and wore it proudly - even sometimes when playing out with my friends in the street, to the horror of my mam who knew I’d ruin it (and to be fair, I did - you might remember the material of those shirts was naff and clicked to bits, especially if you lived in an old pit house like me and you spent half your time climbing brick walls that seemed particularly attracted to the material!).
I stood at the bar waiting for my dad to hand me down a half of pop when I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I looked around and couldn’t see anybody.
“Hey, little Quinny!” boomed a big voice from above.
I looked up, and it was him - my hero!
Sir Niall stood there in all his glory, clutching a Guinness with a massive smile across his face. I’ll never forget it.
He made a big fuss out of me as he ruffled my big mop of auburn hair, making me feel almost as tall as he was. It was a complete surprise, but my favourite player had spotted me and gave me a memory I’ll cherish forever.
Happy times. Niall was and still is my hero, and not just for his efforts on the pitch but also for his selflessness and kindness, something I experienced and witnessed on more than one occasion over the years.
Happy belated birthday, Niall!
Andrew Smithson says...
Niall Quinn the player was one of my favourites, but Niall Quinn the man is even better in my eyes.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had two real dealings with him, and he was an absolute delight during both.
He happily gave me his time and his effort free of charge when I was working on a project a decade or so ago - there was nothing whatsoever in it for him and he was very busy at the time, yet he did everything that was asked of him and more, even contacting me afterwards to make sure I had what I needed and to see how things were progressing.
We’d actually been put in touch by another former player that had spoken very highly of him. When your former peers speak as glowingly about you as your fans, I think it says a lot, and my experience at that stage certainly seemed to back up everything I had heard.
The other occasion was a couple of years before that when my wife and I had been invited to an event at the Stadium of Light.
It was some sort of launch event for a community initiative and the room was full of local press and dignitaries, yet Quinn made time to speak to us and took a real interest in what we had to say.
Our first-born child was still very young at the time and he could sense we were a little apprehensive about her being in a crowded space so he even looked to find us a quiet corner, and then tracked down a member of staff to help us out with food.
It all came naturally to him, but showed a genuine side to his nature - people can put it on for the cameras, but this was him being a class act without even realising it.
The other half isn’t into football but that interaction stayed with her, and in more recent times with our second child we have had to make use of the children’s hospital that bears his name and it is fitting that his contribution to the area continues to be recognised by the wider community.
Best wishes Niall, and thanks for everything!
Tom Albrighton says...
In footballing terms, my greatest memory of Quinn will always be that looping header away at Newcastle.
Michael Gray’s tantalising cross seemed to hang in the air for as long as Quinn’s header and even as a child, those ten seconds felt like an eternity.
Outside of football, it will always be meeting the big man himself, not only because I got to thank him for all his marvellous work at the club but because his interest in myself - a total stranger - and my family along with me was genuine.
To me, that’s the mark of a great man who, despite doing so for the last twenty years, still approaches Sunderland fans with the same care, attention and enthusiasm as he always had, and it probably helps that he’s not had to buy a pint as long as a Sunderland fan is at the bar too!
Kyle Garrett says...
I’m too young to remember the playing days of Quinn, but listening to stories from the elders around me makes me realise how good and how important he was.
Everyone knows how deadly Quinn and Kevin Phillips were together and having read his book, Quinn talks about just how good the partnership really was.
Having watched highlights of the pair up front, I’d have to say my pick would be his header against the Mags at St James’ Park to win the game 2-1. I can only imagine the scenes in the stadium, in pubs and in people’s homes!
I also met the big man when he was chairman, I was only five or six, but I remember him giving everybody the time of day, and he was, and doubtless still is, loved by the Sunderland fans.