Lawrie McMenemy: I didn't do anything right as Sunderland manager
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Lawrie McMenemy has never graced the Stadium of Light foyer and been whisked up the carpeted stairs to the posh seats and prawn cocktails of the executive suites.
Few Sunderland managers over recent years have left a legacy of such unpopularity. The vitriol towards Steve Bruce since his 2011 dismissal pails into comparison.
“I haven’t been to the new stadium... I’m not sure I’d be allowed in,” he concedes with a smile during a rare trip back to his native North East in his role as Special Olympics President.
It’s almost 30 years since McMenemy left Roker Park, but he remains a villain for Sunderland fans of that era – forever tagged with the Mackem-enemy nickname.
Fanfare had initially greeted McMenemy’s return to the North East in 1985, when he was charged with taking relegated Sunderland back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
Here was one of England’s most well-regarded managers, who had lifted the League Cup at Southampton and led the unfancied Saints to runners-up spot in the title race behind behemoths Liverpool.
His pay packet as the best-paid boss in the land reflected that.
But the fall from grace was spectacular; Sunderland narrowly avoiding a second successive relegation in his first season at the helm, before he resigned on the eve of the drop to the Third Division 12 months later.
“Hands-up, I didn’t do anything right when I was at Sunderland,” he told the Echo.
“It’s the biggest regret of my career.
“More was expected of me because I came from up here and we’d won the League Cup down at Southampton and were second in the league to Liverpool.
“I think everybody expected the same up here.
“There were things that I had to sort out that I didn’t know about until I got here.
“But I wouldn’t put the blame on anyone else.
“The manager has to take the blame because you’ll get the pats on the back when you win.”
There were mitigating factors for McMenemy’s demise – several of which he chronicled in the release of his autobiography earlier this year.
He encountered dilapidated facilities at Roker, a team disgruntled by the row over League Cup final tickets the season before and perhaps most damagingly, a boardroom in the midst of internal squabbling.
McMenemy had been appointed managing director, rather than manager, and was sandwiched by the manoeuvring which was to see Bob Murray take the reins from Tom Cowie.
But the ex-Gateshead player didn’t help himself.
Several of his signings proved to be duds, the likes of Steve Hetzke, Steve Doyle, Alan Kennedy and Iain Hesford all hastening Sunderland’s demise into the third tier for the only time in the club’s history.
He said: “Jimmy Tarbuck is a friend of mine and he famously joked ‘What have Lawrie and the Titanic got in common?
“Neither one should have left Southampton’.
“I’d been at Southampton all that time and it was time for a move. I’d been there 12 years.
“I came from a situation where you handled everything at the club from top to bottom.
“And when I came here, the boardroom was completely different. The mistake I made was being made a director, when I should have just concentrated on the football.
“Some of the players didn’t do it for me and hands-up, I failed.
“That was probably the least pleasurable time of my football career.”
McMenemy insists he was “delighted” that Sunderland remained in the Premier League last season and wants to see a time when the three North East big-hitters are all thriving, rather than struggling to either beat the drop or earn promotion.
“Even during my time here, the passion of the supporters was always there to see,” he adds.
But on Wearside, McMenemy’s reputation will forever be tarnished by those harrowing 21 months at the helm.
H Special Olympics President McMenemy was speaking at Gateshead International Stadium as athletes from the Special Olympics Gateshead club prepared for next year’s Summer Games.
The club’s main aim is to ensure people with disabilities can fulfil their sporting aspirations, with 32 athletes getting ready to compete at the 2017 event in Sheffield.
As a registered charity, Special Olympics Gateshead relies on grants and donations and now faces the challenge of raising £17,000 to cover their athletes’ transport and accommodation costs for the event.
Team Valley-based print management company, SOS Group Ltd, is a long-term supporter of Special Olympics Gateshead.