OK, he may have one of the worst ever records for a Sunderland manager, sandwiched between Kevin Ball and Roy Keane with 1 win in 6 games, but Niall has been supreme as a player, rôle model, and ambassador for Wearside, as well as an exemplary chairman of Sunderland Football Club.
Niall John Wayne Quinn, MBE was born 6 October 1966 in Dublin. He was signed by Peter Reid from Manchester City in 1996 in preparation for a season in the Premiership after the Black Cats’ promotion from the Endsleigh League Division 1. We had prospered in the lower division on the basis of our defence, led ably by Dickie Ord (see the tribute song at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVRcPfc9YUc&playnext_from=TL&videos=hd71r2ADBUc) but the Lads were desperately short of attacking options. Quinn made an immediate impact and led the line well, but was injured for much of that season, scoring 2 goals in 12 appearances. Could you imagine Craig Russell and Kevin Ball both ending up as top scorers on 4 goals? Well, it happened that season, and the Black Cats were duly relegated on 40 points. Quinny went under the knife and made a comeback in 1997-8, forming an immediate and almost telepathic partnership with Peter Reid’s new signing from Watford, Kevin Phillips. The rest is SAFC history!
So in 1997-8 the team ended the season with a 13-match unbeaten run, combining with a 14-goal contribution from Quinn to propel them into the play-offs. The season ended with that amazing 4-4 play-off final with Charlton Athletic.
The 1998-9 season saw the Lads surge to a record points score of 105 with 31 wins, 91 goals and only 3 defeats by a single goal margin in what was then a record for the Championship, and they were unbeaten from February onwards. Sadly this record was surpassed by one point by Reading in their first ever promotion to the Premiership, but in the context of Newcastle’s 102-point dominance of the Fizzy Pop league in 2009-10, this 105 point total was amazing. What really set that season apart was the Quinn/Phillips partnership, and Niall scored 18 goals in 39 appearances.
It wasn’t just Quinn’s skill and touch as a footballer, or even his goals, including unstoppable headers in consecutive 2-1 victories at St. James’ Park, that stood out, it was his obvious passion for Sunderland Football Club. In a time when many top players are just well-paid journeymen with no real commitment to their clubs, Sunderland got under his skin. Our successive 7th place finishes in 2000 and 2001 were years of consistent success while the Quinn/Phillips partnership was at its mesmerising best, with Superkev winning the European Golden Boot with 30 goals in 2000.
After his retirement, Niall Quinn suffered with the rest of the fans seeing the team gain only 19 points in 2003 and 15 points in 2006. He moved to take over the club with the Drumaville Consortium, brought in Roy Keane, and the club is now on a sound path to sustained success under his wise and passionate stewardship. As a chairman of a major football club, he is unparalleled in his relationship with the fans. As a human being, Quinn showed his compassion in donating his testimonial funds of over £1M to local hospitals. He backed Steve Bruce during the winless winter run this season, taking the pressure off him by saying his job would be safe even if, against the odds, the team was relegated. Quinn operates on a totally different plane to that sociopathic, overweight, beer-swilling shopkeeper from across the Tyne.
So Niall, we salute and thank you for being the person you are, the supporter you are and the Chairman you are. May your association with SAFC bring us the success the fans want and history dictates the club needs. A trophy or two is the goal!
©Lars J.S. Knutsen