Niall Quinn at Sunderland: the chairman

by James Hunt

Before Malbranque, the only Steed in Sunderland was the noble one upon which Niall Quinn strode back into Wearside as the club’s saviour.

Following relegation with a record low points tally – breaking their own record – and in dire straits financially, Quinn, probably over a few pints of Guinness, talked a group of his Irish friends (who just so happened to be rather rich) into forming the Drumaville consortium and taking over Sunderland AFC.

The group paid around £10m for the club, and Quinn – installed as chairman – also took over managerial duties, having been unable to persuade Martin O’Neill to take the job.

Managing seemed to be the one thing the Irishman was not naturally adept at, as he won one and lost five of the six games he oversaw. Sensing this himself, he went to another of his fellow countrymen in his hour of need. Step forward Roy Keane.

It was a strange and surprising decision, given both Keane’s lack of managerial experience, and the falling-out between the pair following Keane walking out on Ireland at the 2002 World Cup.

Under the Quinn/Keane partnership, Sunderland went from languishing around the bottom of the Championship to winning the division and, more importantly, promotion back to the promised land of the Premier League.

Quinn proved himself to be just as good in the boardroom as he had on the pitch, especially in terms of financial backing for his manager, even if most of it was ultimately wasted.

After securing their Premier League status, and surviving their first season back, Quinn realised the need for increased investment in the club if it was to truly grow and move away from being a yo-yo club to become an established Premier League side, one who could potentially challenge for Europe, and at the very least the top-ten. This was, he stated in 2006, a five-year plan.

In 2008, Quinn convinced Texan billionaire Ellis Short to make an investment in the club, which led to increased backing for manager Roy Keane, who certainly wasn’t shy about spending his owner’s cash.

Quinn and Keane’s relationship was expected to be tempestuous, but it was actually between Keane and Short the problems arose, leading to Keane leaving the club in December 2008, just months after Short had taken over.

At the end of 2008, Short bought out the remaining members of the Drumaville consortium, however, Quinn remained in his role as chairman – much to the delight of Sunderland supporters.

Quinn and Short together brought Steve Bruce to the club, but there was the feeling that he was very much Quinn’s man. While Bruce left Sunderland on a sour note, there is no denying that he had added stability to the team and took us to the top-ten.

However, perhaps Quinn’s biggest fault when it came to Bruce was the fact he was too nice, and put of sacking him for too long, so long, as it happened, that by the time Bruce was sacked Quinn was no longer chairman – he had assumed a new role as Head of International Development, with Short taking over as chairman.

There was talk then of Quinn being shunted to one side, that it was to do with his loyalty to Bruce and so on. The fact remains Quinn had spoken of a five-year plan, he’d watched that take place, and he wanted to focus on the next step in Sunderland’s development – increasing their brand globally.

Much of his time since then has been spent creating links in Africa, which has possibly led to his desire to now stand down and spend more time with his family. He’s certainly earned it.

It is with much sadness that we see Quinn depart, but also with the knowledge that he leaves the club in an extremely strong position. And indeed it may prove that his final act was his greatest – the appointment of Martin O’Neill.

Anyone who has ever met him has nothing but the kindest of words. He wasn’t the archetypal chairman, evidenced by paying for taxi’s for Sunderland supporters after they were thrown off a plane – for singing his name! A football man, a Sunderland man, and a good man.

Player, manager, chairman. Hero, icon, legend.

Niall Quinn – as a fan of Sunderland and of football, thank you!

Read James’ look at Quinn’s Sunderland playing career here.

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