Soapbox: arise Sir Bob


Who said of Bob Murray: “I absolutely worship him. He’s quite wonderfully good, and has an amazing way of making you feel part of a very special family. He lives and breathes that club. I was watching him (at a Spurs v SAFC game) and you could see that every kick, every movement of the game was etched on his body. He has effectively poured his life into the club. The most ardent fan of Sunderland AFC hasn’t a quarter of the commitment Bob has got”? It was Lord (David) Puttnam, filmmaker extraordinaire, “second club” supporter of Sunderland and clearly a man to whom Murray is mint. Lord Puttnam will be thrilled at news that Bob is to be Sir Bob. Pete Sixsmith offers a more measured view …

Once again, I was disappointed to see my name missing from the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. I thought an OBE for services to the drinks industry or an MBE for services to supporting Sunderland AFC might have been in order, but apparently not.

However, it was pleasing to see that our former chairman and club president, Bob Murray, had been given a knighthood for his “Services to Education and Football in the North East”, a reward for 20 years as chairman of Sunderland which saw the building of the Stadium and Academy of Light and saw him put a lot of money into school and extra-curricular activities through the SAFC Foundation.

Of course, the fact that he also made some generous contributions to the Labour Party may have helped, but Bob Murray always wore his heart on his sleeve and made it very clear that he knew where his roots were and that although he had moved on from them, there was no forgetting his early days in Consett.

As chairman and owner of Sunderland AFC, he had a chequered history. He took over from the terminally unpopular Tom Cowie, and immediately presided over our darkest days as we slid into Division Three. He made an excellent managerial appointment in Dennis Smith, promotion was achieved at once and there was an ideal opportunity to move onwards and upwards.

But he was an accountant and a cautious one at that. He had made his money from bathroom fittings and doors and he always seemed to keep his hand firmly on his wallet rather than it.
After a fortuitous promotion in 1990, we did not speculate sufficiently to remain in the top division for more than one season. Had he sanctioned extra spending before the deadline, I am convinced that we would have stayed up and would have been in a far stronger position to take on the new Premier League and all that went with it.

Down we went and as one local businessman adopted a low key approach to running a football club, another crashed on to the scene and bought Newcastle United from the hapless McKeag family.

John Hall was supposed to be a Sunderland fan. He had a box at Roker Park, but first and foremost he was an entrepreneur and he saw the potential that was there at Newcastle United, being allowed to fester and moulder away in Division Two.

He forced out the old guard and made an inspired managerial appointment in Keegan and when the Premier League came along, they were in it. Razzmatazz, “Geordie Nation”, all the guff we got sick of hearing – it worked. From being a club that was teetering on the verge of oblivion, they became “The Entertainers”, “Everybody’s favourite second club” and we were left in their slipstream.

Had it not been for the appointment of Peter Reid, we would have been back in Division Three . Murray and Reid worked well as a team. We got promotion (still the most satisfying of all the ones I have sat through), but went down because, once again, money was not there for team strengthening when it was needed at the sharp end of the season. Southampton stayed up because they bought a big knacker of a centre forward called Mickey Evans from Plymouth. He scored five goals. They stayed up, we went down.

Instead, we were spending money on a new stadium. If Bob Murray wants a memorial, this is it. A splendid ground, in the city centre, with the finest gold taps you could ever wish to see. Of all the new stadiums being built at this time, the Stadium of Light was the one to look at: great location, great acoustics, great facilities and for a few years, a decent team.

But the Reid magic wore off and Bob reverted to hopeless managerial appointments, adding Howard Wilkinson to Terry Butcher, Mick Buxton and Malcolm Crosby to his lengthening list of failures.

Down we went and in – on our way down – came Mick McCarthy, who got us to play offs and an FA Cup semi-final before promotion, but it was clear that Bob realised that he no longer had the financial clout to keep Sunderland in the top flight.

He had taken over when the chairman was beginning to become the owner. For a few years, he was able to subsidise the club as local butchers, bakers and candlestick makers had done for many years. I reckon he realised his number was up when we began to waste huge amounts of money on the likes of Medina, Laslandes, Flo and Stewart.

His second legacy was to make sure that he sold the club to people he trusted. Niall Quinn and the Drumaville consortium were perfect. Not everyone was fond of Murray or entirely convinced of Fat Bob’s altruism, but the deal worked well. He could have sold it to anyone. He sold it to a former player with connections in Ireland and the North East and insisted on a two way due diligence.

I hope that fellow fans are proud that our club president has been awarded an honour. I suppose if you want these things it’s a reward for your work over many years. Somehow, I don’t see Mike Ashley getting one in 10 years’ time………

* Lord Puttnam’s comments were made in an interview for Wear Down South, newsletter of the London and Southern England branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association, and reproduced at Salut! Sunderland in our Celebrity Supporters series.

5 thoughts on “Soapbox: arise Sir Bob”

  1. I find it strange that the efforts put into Sunderland by Murray are often sneered at, yes other clubs have a new stadium but the SOL was the biggest structure to be built in Britian for almost 50 years. Murray lead he seen the way forward and many have followed that is a tribute in its self. Sunderlan have had a chequered past since their 1st relegation, but give Murray the credit for always putting Sunderland 1st. We talk of Hall & look at Ashley, there but for the Grace of God………….

  2. Jeremy, you must be mellowing. I expected a much more virulent response to this. Where’s the Spirit Of The Clock Stand Paddock? Great piece on Green and England, thouhj. That’s more like it!!!

  3. His knighthood must be due to service to bathrooms etc. Every club in the country has a new stadium or at least some new stands at worst. You would think Murray had been down at Monkwearmouth with his own bricks and trowel building the ground himself. I doubt very much whether the chairmen at other clubs are still talked about in such reverential terms a decade and a hald after their stadia were built. The honours system is an an anachronsim and this is simply further evidence.

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