Cheer up Peter Reid – but don’t forget when it was gloomy

Image: A Love Supreme

Peter Reid presided over great escape, glorious triumph and terrible misery in his seven-and-a-half years in charge at Roker Park and then the Stadium of Light. Let us honour the heady heights of his reign while not overlooking the troughs …

Sad to say
, the official Sunderland AFC club site played a stinker in ignoring a tremendous victory for Sunderland Women’s FC as they reached the quarter-finals of the FA Women’s Cup.

But it was smart enough to take advantage of the club’s admirable decision to make training facilities available to Peter Reid’s Plymouth Argyle during his relegation-haunted, liquidation-threatened team’s trip up north. Argyle went home with a point out of six; grabbed an interview.

Freed of the waffle, this is what Reid said of his time in charge at SAFC:

We achieved some remarkable things and the players deserve credit …. they did a fantastic job and played some good stuff along the way.

I like to think I left the club in a lot healthier position than when I joined and I have some great memories.

There were plenty of highs and lows – going down with 40 points, not going up with 90 points and the heartache of losing in what’s regarded by many to be one of the best play-off finals ever.

But to go up the following season with a record number of points and achieve two seventh-placed finishes was outstanding. Overall they were fantastic times – I loved my time at Sunderland.

All of which takes me back to my own impressions of the Reid era. We all seem too ready to forget how good it got in our haste to remember the subsequent collapse for which Reidy was in part to blame.

It can embarrassing to look back on work we’ve done in the past, and there are bits of the following article I’d happily change now with the wonderful gift that is hindsight.

All the same, and with due acknowledgement to all that has happened since to change our outlook and our expectations, this is what I wrote for the sports pages of The Daily Telegraph when Peter Reid was sacked in 2002:

Leaving the Stadium of Light after Peter Reid’s final home game in charge, a stuttering 1-0 defeat of Aston Villa 11 days ago, I muttered my relief to another supporter. “I’m in two minds,” he replied glumly. “I sort of wanted us to get beat so he’d be kicked out.”

That, I am afraid, was typical of the view of a section of Sunderland supporters that started as an off-the-wall minority and grew to outnumber his defenders.

In the end, he was seen off by the same crowd who had for so long, in Cheer Up Peter Reid, sung of the “Scouser dressed in blue” who became a red-and-white saviour. This season’s attendance figures are bad enough; 7,000-10,000 fans voting with their feet, with a huge impact on takings.

Consider the demeanour of those who did keep faith and you get a truer measure of the crisis.

In both home defeats so far – against Everton and Fulham – the jeering started early in the first half to be repeated with such frequency and ferocity that individual performances, already poor, became wretched.

The plain truth is that Sunderland supporters, and I include myself, were utterly spoilt by the excitement of two Division One championships in Reid’s first four full seasons, the gleaming new stadium and those two seventh-place Premiership finishes. Crazily, we began to think we were again a force to be reckoned with: something no fan under 70 has known.

For most of his seven years at Sunderland, Peter Reid was a magnificent, inspirational manager who delivered thrilling football, loads of goals and a renewed sense of pride. Approximately 1.75 seasons ago, decline set in. High in the League at Christmas, we – he – failed to strengthen the squad, blowing the chance of European football.

Then at the start of last season came Reid’s greatest blunder. We had one creative, goalscoring midfielder, Don Hutchison, who wanted to leave. West Ham fancied him, but also had a creative, goalscoring midfielder, Trevor Sinclair, anxious to go. Simple? Er, no. Ours went, theirs stayed. Goal-shy and clueless, we ended the season arguably the Premiership’s feeblest side, surviving only because Ipswich – 5-0 winners over Sunderland on New Year’s Day – paid heavily for their European adventures. Poor Kevin Phillips had to spend so much time being our best midfielder and winger that he would have been hard pressed to do his day job even if there had been a glimmer of decent service.

That was the time for Reid to go. “It’s been great,” he might have said. “I’ve kept us up but can do no more.” It is likely that Bob Murray would have sacked Reid had we gone down. Again, the wrong decision; no one would have been better qualified to plot an immediate return.

This season began with just a hint that the fans who gave Reid a hard time on the pre-season tour would have to think again. Matthew Piper, Stephen Wright and even Phil Babb seemed reasonable signings. Phillips stayed, though we could have done without a nail- biting wait for the arrival of two
more strikers.

But even before that dismal surrender at St James’ Park, the damage to Reid’s standing was already beyond repair. The outspoken fanzine, A Love Supreme, had started flogging “Reid Out” – and, to be fair, “Reid In” – T-shirts. Although it was a response to reader demand, and the proceeds went to charity, a minor outcry followed, not least because each slogan appeared with Reid depicted as “Monkey Head”, the very image used by Newcastle fans to insult him. The shirts were quickly withdrawn but there would be precious little else to cheer up Peter Reid.

Monsieur Salut

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