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On This Day (13 June 1985): Cowie pushes the boat out to seal Sunderland’s new manager!

It was on this day 37 years ago when it was confirmed Lawrie McMenemy had been made an offer to become manager of Sunderland and part of Roker Park was threatened with closure...

With hindsight it seems ridiculous, but on this day in 1985 excitement levels were rising as Sunderland chairman Sir Tom Cowie confirmed that a “very attractive offer” had been made to Lawrie McMenemy to become the new manager at Roker Park.

It had been just over a month since Sunderland completed a miserable season that ended up in relegation from Canon League Division One and defeat in the Milk Cup final to Norwich City at Wembley, which resulted in Len Ashurst vacating the position as manager of the club.

The expectation, as a newly relegated side, was to appoint a manager with the intention of bouncing straight back to the top flight, but the shortlist of managers linked to the post wasn’t a particularly long one.

The three names that were seemingly linked more than most were Chelsea manager John Neal, Howard Wilkinson, the main man at Sheffield Wednesday, and of course, Lawrie McMenemy, who had recently resigned from his post as manager of Southampton.

Sunderland Manager Len Ashurst and Norwich City Manager Ken Brown
Sunderland manager Len Ashurst and Norwich City manager Ken Brown ahead of the 1985 Milk Cup final

The Gateshead-born McMenemy was in charge at The Dell for twelve successful years, taking the club from Division Two to the higher reaches of the top flight and even European football, but surprisingly, after a season where The Saints had just finished 5th in Division One, McMenemy resigned from his post citing the need for a new challenge.

Soon after the season finished, it was also announced that other potential targets were removing themselves from the shortlist.

John Neal left his post as manager of Chelsea to take a place on the board at Stamford Bridge through ill-health, and Sheffield Wednesday chairman Bert McGee announced a new five-year contract had been agreed to keep Howard Wilkinson at Hillsborough, and in doing so shortened the list of candidates available to take the post at Roker:

Howard (Wilkinson) won’t be leaving us. When you’ve got one of the best managers in the game you don’t want to lose him. We aim to build on continuity and stability here. Sealing Howard’s long-term future is a major move in that direction.

This meant that the pressure was on the Sunderland chairman to pull a rabbit out of his hat to raise the enthusiasm levels after our five-year stay in Division One had come to an end, and it was on this day in 1985 when the work began to do just that.

McMenemy was one the most highly-rated managers in the country following his exploits at Southampton and it was thought his next move would naturally be another top flight club, but Sir Tom Cowie felt a combination of “a very attractive offer” combined with a return to the North-East might just be the ticket to see McMenemy accept the offer to become Sunderland’s new manager.

Lawrie McMenemy and Sir Tom Cowie

The Sunderland chairman was a close friend of McMenemy and for the first time spoke publicly of his chase to land him as his new manager:

I’ve spoken to Lawrie today. We’ve made him a very attractive offer and he’s promised an answer by the end of the month. He’s now flown off to America to get away from the hassle and consider it in peace.

Reports had suggested that Cowie’s offer had included a salary of up to £1 million plus a place on the board at Roker, which would have made the 48-year-old former Southampton supremo the highest paid manager in the country, but when pressed on the details of the offer the Sunderland owner would only hint at what it might or might not include:

We’ve got over the first hurdle of offering him the manager’s job. But if a seat on the board is what Lawrie wants, and it will get him here, then it is a possibility. He has promised me that he won’t consider any other offers either for inside or outside the game until he gives me his answer.

We may have to get round the table again at some future date. If necessary, I’m prepared to fly out to America for any talks. We’ll move heaven and Earth to get this man.

Roker Park

Outside of the speculation on Sunderland’s seventh managerial appointment in a decade, there were concerns about the safety of Roker Park where the consequences were potentially a banning order on fans to view a game completely from the Clock Stand paddocks.

Considering how the next few years panned out it may not have been a bad thing, but the findings had come as a result of a report that was published on safety in all grounds across the country following the Bradford disaster.

The implications for Roker Park came due to concerns that in the event of a fire at the stadium, fans would need to escape by returning back into the Main Stand or Clock Stand from the paddock area if they required to escape:

In view of the Bradford disaster it is considered essential that provision be made to evacuate all paddock spectators on to the pitch in an emergency so that no paddock spectator has to go through the stand to escape.

There were also recommendations to reduce the capacity of the Main Stand paddock by almost 2,000, which, if combined with a potential closure of the Clock Stand paddock, would mean that the capacity of Roker Park would be cut by 6,500 for the coming season.

Just another day in the life of Sunderland Association Football Club.


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