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Roker Report Rundown: The Scottish managers of Bonny Sunderland

Last week Alex Neil became the ninth Scot to permanently take over the Sunderland managerial hot seat, with some of his predecessors enjoying mixed fortunes on Wearside…

The Scottish influence at Sunderland is hard to ignore.

The club was of course formed by a Scot, and since then the country has provided several of its greatest players.

Some early teams were made up almost exclusively of players from north of the border and nearly every successful squad has had a healthy smattering hailing from Caledonia.

There was even a supposed gipsy prophecy that the club would not win the FA Cup until ‘a Scottish lassie sits on the throne of England’ - sure enough, when they did win the competition for the first time in 1937, captain Raich Carter received the trophy from Queen consort Elizabeth, who had spent most of her childhood in Angus.

Alba has given us plenty of managers too, so fingers crossed then that Alex Neil can keep the Saltire flying high in memory of some of his countrymen…


Robert Campbell (1896 to 1899)

A half-brother of early Sunderland legend Johnny Campbell, Robert moved to Wearside in 1889 and initially lodged with Tom Watson, the man he eventually replaced as manager. Whilst working in the shipyards he began training the Sunderland ‘A’ team and then became their secretary before taking over from Watson.

Born in the village of Renton, his first season in charge saw Sunderland successfully fight against relegation. The club had been used to success under Watson but was in decline when Campbell took over; his sides were always well drilled, however, and they finished runners-up during his second season.

He was manager still during the inaugural campaign at Roker Park and after taking up a post at Bristol City the directors initially tried to prevent Campbell from leaving such was the job he was doing.

Campbell. Image from Sunderland The Complete Record (2012 version)

Alex Mackie (1899 to 1905)

Mackie undoubtedly benefitted from the foundations that had been laid by his predecessor. His Sunderland sides were always strong in defence and became hugely consistent, finishing 3rd, 2nd and then as Football League champions in his first three seasons.

The Scot had worked in several football administration jobs in his homeland before moving to Roker Park, and he went agonisingly close to retaining the title in 1902-03.

The following two seasons saw Sunderland fall away, however, and Mackie was temporarily suspended during 1904-05 following an FA investigation into financial irregularities.

At the end of the campaign he left for Middlesbrough, but after only a year there he opted to leave the game altogether.

Mackie. Image from Sunderland The Complete Record (2012 version).

Johnny Cochrane (1928 to 1939)

Cochrane will always be remembered in Sunderland’s history as the most celebrated of Scots. He matched Mackie’s achievement of bringing a league title to the club, and a year later surpassed every Sunderland manager before him by guiding his carefully crafted side to their first FA Cup.

The Paisley man had already tasted glory in Scotland, where he had overseen St Mirren’s 1926 Scottish Cup win and his teams were known to play attractive football.

Always immaculately turned out, Cochrane brought through several Sunderland greats during his 500 game spell in charge.

Cochrane. Image from Sunderland The Complete Record (2012 version).

Bill Murray (1939 to 1957)

Having played under Cochrane during the 1935-36 title-winning season, Bill Murray returned to Roker Park and spent nearly 20 years in charge.

His reign saw plenty of near-misses – after World War II he was allowed to construct an expensive and highly talented side that came within a whisker of winning the league in 1949-50 and twice reached the FA Cup semi-finals.

A loyal servant, Murray resigned in 1957 following the infamous illegal payments scandal that had hit the club: a sad end to his long-lasting relationship with Sunderland that had spanned over 800 games as a defender and manager.

Murray. Image from All The Lads

Ian McColl (1965 to 1968)

Born in Alexandria, not only was McColl from Scotland he had actually been in charge of the Scottish national side before being appointed manager at Sunderland.

A league and cup winner as a player with Rangers, he is best remembered on Wearside for bringing the iconic Jim Baxter down from Ibrox.

Despite winning the British Home Championship twice with Scotland and bringing through some exciting talent, McColl was unable to replicate his success at Sunderland.

The team struggled to make any real inroads in Division One and amidst accusations of favouritism from players his spell was not a happy one.

He had qualified as an engineer when first making his way in the game and following his departure from Roker he returned to the profession.

McColl. Image from Sunderland The Complete Record (2012 version).

Ricky Sbragia (2008 to 2009)

There had been 40 years since the last permanent Scottish manager at Sunderland when Ricky Sbragia’s caretaker gig was made full time, and yet despite the long wait his reign has so far proven to be the shortest of his compatriots.

A highly respected coach, Sbragia had held various roles at the club under Mick Buxton, Peter Reid and then Roy Keane, whose departure prompted the elevation to first-team manager.

He worked hard to steady the ship and keep Sunderland’s place in the Premier League before then stepping back at the end of his solitary season and taking up a scouting position.

Since then, he has worked for his country at various age levels and had another spell with one of his other former clubs Manchester United.

Sbragia. Image taken from Burnley October 1994 edition of the Roker Review.

David Moyes (2016 to 2017)

The football under Moyes left many supporters feeling numb, and there was an underlying sense of him being deeply unlikeable as an individual.

It’s probably best to just leave it there then…


Jack Ross (2018 to 2019)

Coming from Falkirk, which is approximately 12 miles from Alex Neil’s hometown of Airdrie, Jack Ross was an up and coming manager when he moved to Sunderland.

His win percentage during his time on Wearside was the best of all his countrymen too, and yet the opinion of him on Wearside is fairly split.

Handed the unenviable task of turning a broken club around and getting it out of League One, Ross looked well on the way to repeating his promotion success with St Mirren before the wheels came off during the run-in.

Although an astute character he was hamstrung somewhat due to issues behind the scenes and never fully recovered from the collapse.

Sunderland v MK Dons - Sky Bet League 1
Ross.
Photo by Steven Hadlow/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

And finally, the caretakers…

Several Scots have taken temporary charge at Sunderland over the years too; Ian McFarlane (1976), Eric Black (2011), Robbie Stockdale (2017 and 2018. Was born in England but a Scotland international), Billy McKinlay (2017, one game as joint caretaker alongside Stockdale) and James Fowler (2019).

Sunderland v Watford - Premier League
Stockdale.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images

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