Niall Quinn famously wrote: “I learned my trade at Arsenal, became a footballer at Manchester City, but Sunderland got under my skin. I love Sunderland.” From
Colin Randall‘s mini-profile, we see that the Sunderland chairman’s powers appear to know no bounds. For as long as it may last, he’s even got us thinking well of Chelsea ….
One ofthe best things you can say about Niall Quinn has nothing strictly to do with the outstanding football he played for Sunderland, the way he has conducted himself as chairman or even the magnanimous donation of the entire £1m proceeds of his SAFC testimonial to hospitals in Sunderland and Dublin and an orphanage run by a pal in Calcutta.
It is that you know instantly he’s the sort of bloke you’d enjoy having as a friend, or even as an occasional acquaintance with whom to share a drink or two.
Of course those impressive snippets from the cv reinforce the thought that Niall – pictured by Peadar O’Sullivan – is essentially a good man. But he displays generosity of spirit, and a mischievous joie de vivre, that makes him easy to like, even for strangers and even without the noble deeds.
And the fact that he is emphatically not a saint, and recoils in horror from attempts to portray him as one, is one of his endearing qualities.
This extract from a piece he wrote with Michael Walker in the Mail last week was long on honesty and devoid of humbug:
“There were people over-praising me in print, on TV and radio. But they didn’t know me, they’d never seen me hustling in snooker halls, punting badly in the bookies, or getting lost on the occasional bender! My friends and family knew what I was really like.”
The article presented Niall’s thoughts on the Chelsea star Didier Drogba’s admirable decision to divert £3m sponsorship money from Pepsi to build a hospital in his native Ivory Coast.
Most fair-minded fans accept that Drogba is one of the best footballers in the Premier League. The fact that unless you support Chelsea, he may not necessarily be the most likeable – we all find it hard to love opponents who dive quite as much, and show quite as much aggression – makes it seem all the more refreshing an act of kindness.
“What a thing to do,” says Niall before characteristically playing down his own initiative. “To build a hospital from scratch is a phenomenal effort. All we did was raise some money and hand it over. I never really felt it was my money, it felt more like a collective.”
Niall also commended the Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich for pledging to augment Drogba’s contribution, perhaps in a pound-for-pound arrangement that will help ensure that the hospital, once built, can actually function. Of course these people have the money to make such gestures painless; not every wealthy person bothers.
It is good to see that others are following Quinny’s lead in showing a more human face of modern football.
His record speaks volumes:
* those testimonial donations. He’s planning a visit next summer to the Calcutta orphanage
* the EasyJet affair, when he paid for road transport from Bristol to Sunderland after our supporters returning from a victory at Cardiff were thrown off the plane for insisting on singing his Disco Pants song
* At least two cases of sincere, consoling letters to the families of bereaved fans (one, Arthur “Rasher” Scrivens, a man from the Cotswolds who really had no connection with the North East but had latched on to Sunderland when young and become a firm fan; the other, Stephen Wilson, an ardent follower killed in an attack outside a pub in Bishop Auckland. Stephen was known as Squinny; it’s entirely possible that Quinny remembers an arm-wrestling duel that Squinny won.
* this recent tale seen at the Blackcats list (edited): As I live away from home, I only get to home matches occasionally and when I do, I go with me mam and dad (both season ticket holders), uncle, and dad’s mate. We tend to come straight back after the match. On one particular occasion we ended up in a couple of groups.
To make a short story long, I ended up back at the car with me dad and uncle. Me mam was nowhere to be seen. We waited (half an hour ish) before deciding to go back and look for her. We bumped into her nearly at the car. A bloke had collapsed and she had gone to his aid. She is a nurse and resuscitated him and made him comfortable.
Niall got word of this and invited her (plus guest) – handwritten note, mind, not pa-typed – to the boardroom for a future match (with meal and trimmings). She said he never stopped the whole time she was there meeting/greeting/chatting to people.
* (from the Sunderland Echo, again edited); terminally ill, Colin Newton thought his final wish to meet Sunderland legend Niall Quinn was in tatters – until the SAFC chairman turned up at his home. Colin was confined to bed on the day he was due to fulfil his dream of enjoying a VIP day at the Stadium of Light with his hero.
Hearing about the seriousness of the 44-year-old’s condition, Niall visited him and helped comfort him just weeks before his death. The Sunderland-daft fan told staff caring for him at Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital he always wanted to meet Niall, and they arranged for him to be a VIP at the Black Cats Carling Cup clash with Birmingham City in September. When Colin took a turn for the worse before the match, his nurse David Clarkson organised for the Sunderland chairman to visit him. “When Niall Quinn walked in the door Colin was so taken back,” said his brother Rob. “It was his dream. Niall was so nice to him. He was such a gentleman.”
Salut! Sunderland can add one of its own. An intermediary had arranged for me to interview Niall before the Roy Keane promotion season home game with QPR. He promised to go ahead with it even when a corporate obstacle appeared.
The only reason it never happened was one that made me happy to have lost out: he used the time instead to make a gravely (maybe terminally) ill little girl feel welcome and special inside the boardroom. And he put the youngster ahead of a much grander media guest, his former Arsenal colleague Alan Smith, greeting him with a warm “Hiya Smudger” but pressing ahead with that much more important appointment.
Not everything Niall Quinn does is spot on, as he has acknowledged. He was useless as a manager and it is fair to say his relief when he replaced himself with Roy Keane was heartily shared by SAFC fans. And he has not yet got round to knocking heads together to restore access to the SoL to supporters accused or suspected, but not convicted, of football-related disorder in Newcastle after the pre-season game at Hearts.
But there isn’t much wrong with a man who, asked to autograph his autobiography with a reassuring message in one of those seasons when we were heading for a record low points tally for the Premier, is so aware – even in December – of the way the wind is blowing that he scratches his head and writes instead: “Keep the faith.”
Pete Sixmith, for whom the book was signed, and I, who requested the signature (as well as getting a reference, for my own copy, to that unforgettable night Quinny both scored and kept goal as a substitute for Tommy, at Bradford in 1999, would have kept the faith anyway. Having Niall in charge has made it an easier and happier choice.