End of an era: Open season to report on exciting times

Glory day: Peter Reid and Kevin Ball celebrate Sunderland's 105-point Division One season in 1998-99
Glory day: Peter Reid and Kevin Ball celebrate Sunderland's 105-point Division One season in 1998-99
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THE Peter Reid era saw a succession of successful sides created which will live long in the memory of Sunderland fans.

As a sports writer, they were a privilege and pleasure to cover.

First, there was the salt-of-the-earth outfit characterised by Kevin Ball which by sheer determination and team spirit helped drag the club into the Premier League, thanks to the talents of players like Martin Smith, Craig Russell, Michael Bridges, Alec Chamberlain and Shay Given, as well as the immense graft of characters like Richard Ord, Andy Melville, Martin Scott and Ball himself.

There there was the famous Niall Quinn-Kevin Phillips inspired side of the 90-point play-off final and 105-point record-breaking promotion at the end of the 1990s.

That was the most consistently well-balanced and thrilling side I saw in my time on the beat, with partnerships all over the pitch, especially the contrasting link-ups on the flanks of Michael Gray-Allan Johnston and Chris Makin-Nicky Summerbee.

And then there was the two seventh-placed Premier League sides which showcased the talents of the likes of Stefan Schwarz, Steve Bould and Thomas Sorensen.

It was a great era to report on for a Sunderland Echo writer and not just in terms of exciting football. For long spells, I had the telephone number of every player at the club and could ring them whenever I wanted.

There was a great team spirit at that time, a great vibe and assistant manager Bobby Saxton was an important part of that.

Sacko was a brilliant football thinker as well as a natural comic character and it was unfortunate that the abiding image of him outside the club was as the foul-mouthed ranter in TV’s Premier Passions.

The players loved and respected him.

During that time, there was a closeness and a familiarity between players and Press – possibly the last time it existed generally at that level.

And it’s no coincidence that players like Phillips, Quinn, Gray, Bridges, Smith, Makin, Summerbee and Kilbane have all gone on to carve out careers in the media.

It was something they were used to and not fearful of, from their playing days.

And, in return, reporters were able to keep their fingers on the pulse at Sunderland in a way that they could not do at bigger clubs.

Peter Reid refused to have club Press officers in his evening newspaper conferences, preferring to speak privately and openly to journalists, all of which it mean it was a golden era for the Echo and Football Echo, whose pages overflowed.

But it was not to last.

The times they were a-changing, not just at Sunderland but across the landscape of the Premier League.

Football was becoming more structured with an increasing number of rules and regulations.

When the Academy of Light was opened, there were some at the club who thought one of the better parts of its design was that journalists and footballers would now use separate car parks, separate parts of the building and would no longer mix together as they had done at the Charlie Hurley.