Niall Quinn opens up on “light-bulb moment” and leading a Sunderland revival after 2006 relegation

Ask Niall Quinn the difference between being a player and a club owner/chairman and he paints a vivid picture.

He’s done both jobs in the Premier League era at Sunderland. He is much loved for both spells – towering centre forward, and the man who revived the club from its worst ever season.

Quinn said: “As a footballer you turn up, stay fit and try to perform. A one-dimensional life. As Chairman you have to be all things to everyone.

“Each day had its never-ending revolving door of issues and problems to be sorted. Agents, media, fans, fans groups, sponsors, banks, shareholders, referees, I could do a list that would upset the apple-cart every day. You have to be on guard at all times.

“I was there six years. It was full on. It was exhilerating. It was hard work. I had sleepless nights. The good days are few and far between, but make up for the bad days.

Quinn had hung up his boots in 2002

“You could have a brilliant day, something great happening commercially. You’d thing great… then open the door and someone would say one of your players has been arrested, you have to go to the police station.”

Quinn’s revival of Sunderland kicked off in February 2006. He had a lunch with chairman Bob Murray discussing the club’s Foundation, and it was clear the place had gone flat.

On the pitch Sunderland were heading for a then-record low points total of just 15, and relegation.

Yet Quinn says he had a “light-bulb moment”. By the end of the lunch he was thinking big. A consortium of Irish and local businessmen, who came to be known as Drumaville, to buy the club.

Quinn also felt he had “unfinished business” because as a player he “left in the wrong way.”

Quinn during his time playing for the Mackems

Quinn, in his position as chairman

He added: “I said to John Fickling (then Vice-chairman), one day I might be back. And he said: “Ah we’d love to you back as a manager.” And I said: “No it might be more than that.” It was prophetic.

“There was unfinished business about it. They got rid of Peter Reid, and I wasn’t being involved. I didn’t feel it was the right exit and I left quickly so to get back in and have a go at it myself was great. That ambition was in there.”

Quinn recalls Sunderland “were in dire trouble on and off the pitch.”

His Irish backers were sold on the club when seeing the Stadium of Light crowd give a standing ovation to Thierry Henry near the end of the season.

Quinn recalls: “The potential was there to see. But what was more evident was the sporting hearts and minds of people who loved their football.”

As the club faltered on the pitch, Quinn pushed on to buy up 86 per cent of the shares from “thousands and thousands” of stakeholders. He needed 90per cent to trigger a full takeover.

The inevitable relegation happened, but Quinn and Drumaville pushed on and got over the line.

Quinn’s time as manager was an unmitigated disaster

The question was how to get the club back to the Premier League. The answer was Roy Keane, but only after Quinn stood in as manager, unsuccessfully, at the start of the season.

He said: “We thought Roy was coming one day but he took three or four. I said: ‘What’s that all about.’ And he said: ‘My sister saw you on the telly and thought you were going to have a heart attack as the manager.’ He looked at me and said: ‘So I thought I’d wait a few days…’

“It was classic Roy. I took no offence and I tell it against myself.

Quinn would move upstairs

Completing the comeback, as champions at Luton

“Roy was one of the most influential sportsmen in the British Isles at the time. Even though he was inexperienced we said we’d give him every chance we could. But Roy being Roy once he got the team on a roll we scooted to the top and got promoted. It was incredible.”

Quinn sees obvious parallels with the Sunderland of this season. In desperate need of a spark back to life.

He added: “I feel for them now. It is a tough time and they need some positivity from somewhere. I wish them well. It is a tough gig. I got a young fresh Roy Keane and the whole thing kicked on. I hope they can rediscover that positivity with what they have now.

“The doom and gloom of being relelgated is there. The down trodden fan looking for inspiration. The next few weeks will be critical to see if they can get them to bounce back. I really hope they can get the buzz back.

“When the players come back they have shaken the negativity away and the ones who have not are no longer there. I have nothing but good things to say. I didn’t get it right all the time. It is hard for me to tell people what to do because I know how difficult it is. I just hope it falls into place.”

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