It was a huge day at Roker Park on this day back in 1985 as drawn out sagas were resolved on the playing front as well as in the boardroom.
It had been around two months since Sunderland’s miserable season had ended with relegation from the top flight, which was also notable for defeat to Norwich City in the Milk Cup final at Wembley, and it had been around a month since Sir Tom Cowie’s “attractive offer” to Lawrie McMenemy had been made public, but on this day in 1985 the Gateshead-born manager had accepted the post.
It was a move that shocked the football world as a result of how high McMenemy’s stock had risen in the game following twelve almost exclusively successful years as manager of Southampton.
The Saints had just finished 5th in Division One and had qualified for European football in previous years, but 48-year-old McMenemy surprised everyone by not only quitting his long term project, but by then compounding the decision by not remaining in the top flight.
Through his status as one of the most highly-rated coaches in the country, there was only one way that Sir Tom Cowie could really convince his close friend of taking the post and that was to offer such a lucrative financial package that McMenemy would become the highest paid manager in the country - in Division Two.
One other obstacle getting in the way of McMenemy providing a positive answer to the Sunderland owner’s offer was the lack of a resolution to a boardroom battle that had ensued at Roker for over two years.
But Sir Tom Cowie knew that this would need to be resolved and on the same day as announcing the new manager, it was also announced that Cowie had acquired 125 shares from Portsmouth and Sunderland newspapers to increase his shareholding in the club to over 50%.
It was reassuring for Lawrie McMenemy to know that I had firm control of the club. His decision may have been jeopardised if that had been the case.
Once the news of McMenemy taking over was announced it was seen as a huge coup for Cowie and celebrations broke out as described in the Evening Chronicle:
McMenemy mania gripped Sunderland this afternoon when Big Lawrie arrived at Roker Park amid unprecedented scenes. Hundreds of Sunderland supporters greeted the new Roker manager. They included fans bedecked in red and white, young children and even grandmothers.
Supporters singing “We Love You Lawrie” clamoured to shake hands with the new Sunderland boss when he arrived with chairman Tom Cowie.
One small detail that almost went unnoticed through the fanfare, was McMenemy’s official position, not as manager, but managing director as he described Cowie’s seven-year chase to appoint him as Sunderland manager:
My friend on the left has never been shy and he was soon in with two feet. We have been close for seven years since he first offered me the job here and I knew that if I ever needed a job I had a friend here.
I am not here on an ego trip. That is long gone. And I am not here to project my image. I received two tempting offers from abroad. Both, like Sunderland, had beaches. One of them was in the desert and the other was in Europe. Other clubs in this country offered me jobs but they were no better than what I had at Southampton.
It was also decided that the enthusiasm for the new appointment reached such a fever pitch that the club announced that the ticket office would remain open an hour later during the week and open on Saturdays for season ticket renewals.
In other news, the FA were due to haul Sunderland in front of a disciplinary committee to explain one of the worst records in the Football League from the previous season. It was expected that the FA would hand the club no more than a fine.