ESPN Soccernet - Correspondents - Sunderland
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Posted by Lars Knutsen on 02/24/2012

In a week when Sunderland are on a high after beating Arsenal in the 5th round of the FA Cup, Sunderland fans received the news that the club’s hero, former Chairman and the man who in some people’s eyes has been the modern saviour of the club. Sunderland Football Club was formed in 1879, and has had some glory years, with 6 league championships, but for current fans Niall Quinn has epitomised the renaissance of the modern Black Cats. From 1996 until now he has been a major part of what we have been about, and I will always remember the Stadium of Light era with Niall Quinn either on the pitch or close by, watching in the stand.

He used his skills of persuasion to orchestrate the club’s takeover by the Drumaville consortium, and brought in Roy Keane who ensured our last promotion and established the club in the Premiership. Steve Bruce continued the rise of the club, with the occasional hiccup, and the appointment of Martin O’Neill as manager in December was an absolute master stroke.

This is why Niall can move on and focus on other business interests, and “spend more time with his family”. He has been at almost every Sunderland match in recent years, which must put a strain on family relationships, and I am not going to speculate about why he is leaving the club now, without much of a fanfare. But the Cats are now on an excellent upward path, with a great squad, a lot of young talent and superb recent form.

Speaking about his decision, Quinn said: “I’ve had the most amazing six years and it gives me a huge sense of pride to see where Sunderland is today.

“Sunderland is in an incredibly fortunate position to have a hugely talented team of people leading the football club right now. There is a tremendous amount of energy about the place and the Board and the executive management team are a dynamic and committed group, who hold the best interests of the club at the core of all they do. Everything is in place for Sunderland to really make a statement, which was always my aim. From a football perspective, securing the services of Martin O’Neill has been an absolute highlight. In Martin we have a man that understands the region, the club and the unique place it holds in the lives of its supporters and I am confident that he will harness the immense passion that exists here and take us to new heights.

“As for the great Sunderland fans, I would like to thank them for the trust they placed in me. Back in 2006 I had no business experience and little formal education and yet the fans backed me and believed in what I was trying to do. They came back to the club in their tens of thousands and the faith they showed in me was humbling. I must make special mention of the Drumaville consortium, without whom the story would not have unfolded. They will always be fondly remembered on Wearside and I will always be grateful for their input. Later on Ellis came in – and he believed too. As the guardian of Sunderland in recent years, he has proven himself to be astute, wholeheartedly committed and above all passionate about this football club. He has truly bought into the ethos of what Sunderland is all about and this is so much more than a business to him. Sunderland supporters can be confident that their club is in very safe hands, as am I.

“I am now looking forward to spending more time with my family and exploring business interests away from football. One thing is for sure though, I’ll still have that knot in my stomach before kick-off and the feeling of pure elation at final whistle if the result has gone our way – that will never leave me.”

Chairman Ellis Short said: “Niall Quinn is and always will be a Sunderland legend. His vision brought me into the club and that vision still inspires what we do. He has been a trusted friend and advisor to me throughout our time together at Sunderland and whilst I’m sad about his departure, I respect his view that his ‘work is done’. My job is to carry on that work. He has been a wonderful servant to Sunderland and his determination to see the club grow has been inspirational. His hard work laid down the foundations that we are now building on and the vision and drive he showed both in those early days and indeed in recent times as he focused on our international development, particularly in Africa, should never be underestimated.

“We fully understand his desire to take a back seat now and to concentrate on his own life and interests away from football and he deserves that opportunity. I would like to express my own personal thanks to Niall for his support and he leaves with our very best wishes and immense gratitude for all he has achieved. He will always have a unique and special place in our history and indeed in the hearts of every Sunderland fan.”

Manager Martin O’Neill said: “Niall has been a truly iconic figure at Sunderland, both as a player and in his time leading the club from the top. His vision and drive, alongside that of Ellis, played a significant part in me coming here. Like everyone, I couldn’t be more disappointed that he has decided to step down but of course I respect and understand his decision. He has been the heartbeat of the football club for so long and his legacy is immeasurable. To me he is ‘Mr. Sunderland’ - and always will be.”

Chief executive Margaret Byrne added: “Niall has overseen a period of huge transition for the football club with his own unique style of leadership. His passion and enthusiasm are quite simply infectious and his desire to see Sunderland compete with the country’s top clubs is something that everyone here is committed to taking forward. I echo the sentiments Ellis has expressed and would like to place on record my own thanks to Niall, from both a personal and professional perspective, for the support and guidance he has afforded me in the five years I have been at the club. He leaves behind a wonderful legacy and one which will stand our club in great stead for the future.”

Niall Quinn will always be welcome at this club, we have great memories of a truly genuine guy, a gentleman, an adopted Mackem and a real Sunderland fan. As part of the tribute to Niall Quinn, I am going to reprise my words from this blog 21 months ago; for the original, visit:

Posted by Lars Knutsen on 05/20/2010
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 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

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Lars Knutsen Lars Knutsen was born in Sunderland of Norwegian parents across the Wear from the SSOL back when shipbuilding not car manufacture was the city’s main industry. His first game was in 1968 and he has followed the Black Cats since then, with great memories of the 1973 FA Cup. He hopes the “yo-yo” days are over and defines supporting a team by whether the result affects your mood (but maybe not in the way portrayed in the book “Fever Pitch”!) so has been cheerful recently. He endured school in Newc**tle, has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, a Professorship at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, and works in the Pharma industry as a consultant Medicinal Chemist.

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