Peter Reid reveals the infamous joke he told to help save Sunderland and how he almost quit in transfer row
Peter Reid has opened up on his time as Sunderland manager - and revealed the lengths he went to in order to save the club from relegation.
The former Black Cats boss has gone down in folklore on Wearside for the way he revived the club, taking them from the brink of relegation to the third tier of English football to two successive seventh-placed finishes in the top flight within a matter of years.
Now, in his new autobiography, 'Cheer Up, Peter Reid', he reveals how he masterminded Sunderland's transformation from the minute he took over from Mick Buxton in 1995 to his departure more than seven years later.
Reid, a famed man-manager, tells of taking the squad on a night out with Bob Murray's money, cracking an infamous joke before a relegation decider, and how he almost quit the club before guiding them to promotion.
In part one of the Echo's serialisation of Reid's book, he said of taking over at Sunderland: “I could see all their problems and I knew the risk – both to my job prospects and reputation – was great but I could also see how huge their potential was. Sunderland were a sleeping giant and someone had to wake them, so why shouldn’t it be me?
“One of the first things I did was take the squad out to a restaurant called Bistro Romano, armed with £500 of Bob Murray’s money. It was important that I made the right impression on him at the same time as doing some team bonding.
“I achieved the second part of my objective because we had a great time, but I’ve got a feeling the first part didn’t quite work out as planned because we spent £950. I knew then we had a chance of staying up, though, and that was definitely worth another £450 of Bob’s money. There was no opportunity to make signings and time was against us so nights out like that were absolutely vital.
“We made sure of our survival when we drew at Burnley in a game that was delayed because of crowd congestion. The official attendance was just over 15,000 but 10,000 of them must have been our fans because they were all over the ground.
“That was brilliant but it did give me a problem because it meant the players were in the dressing room for longer than is ideal. In a situation like that I knew there was a real danger the tension could build and hinder their performance, so I decided to lighten the mood by telling a joke.
“ 'Have you heard about the geezer whose pregnant missus was having cravings and sent him out late at night to get a snail sandwich?' " I asked. The lads all looked at me like I was mad, and they might well have had a point, but there was no turning back.
“ 'He goes down to the deli and explains to the shop assistant what he wants, and why he wants it, but out of the blue she asked him when was the last time he’d had sex. One thing led to another and before he knew it the husband is invited around the back, where one thing led to another, but he was so exhausted he fell asleep. When he woke up it was seven o’clock in the morning. He legged it back home but just as he was heading towards the path, the gate squeaked behind him as it closed, he tripped and spilt the snails all over the path.
“ 'Before he could do anything about it his heavily-pregnant wife appeared at the door. ‘Where the hell have you been?’ she asked but, before she could really tear into him, the husband dropped down to his knees behind the snails. ‘Not far now lads,’ he said.' ”
"It wasn’t the best joke I’ve ever told but it lifted the tension. That approach wouldn’t feature on any pro-licence course or in any FA coaching handbook, but that instinct to relax players is part of management.
“We were still a long, long way away from where Sunderland needed to be, though. When I negotiated my contract with the club after keeping them in the division I told them that I needed £1m to spend on signings if we wanted to give ourselves a chance of kicking on.
“I had a look at the squad and there was definitely some quality to work with, but I decided that we needed a goalscorer to set everything off. I settled on David Kelly, the Wolves and Republic of Ireland striker, but when I went to the board and asked for the money that I had been promised I was told that it wasn’t there.
“I pulled my car keys out of my pocket and handed them over. ‘I won’t be needing them,’ I said. ‘I’ll get the train back to Manchester because that’s me finished here.’
“There was a panic – and understandably so – because they knew the last thing they needed was the supporters turning on them again after losing the manager who’d just kept Sunderland up.
“All of a sudden the money that wasn’t available, was. Funny that. I’d won the battle but it didn’t turn out to be the big victory I’d hoped for because Kelly got injured after a few games and never really hit his stride. That wasn’t the point, though, I’d had an agreement with the board and they had to honour it.
“I had thought that we had enough to be safe in mid-table but the momentum of the previous season continued. It was clear early on that we would be challenging for promotion, which was a massive turnaround in the club’s fortunes.
“An 18-match unbeaten run, from February 10 to May 5, allowed us to go up as champions. The turnaround had been monumental and it reminded me of what had happened at Everton when I was a player. The revival was built on similar foundations, with team spirit and hard work proving the cornerstones of everything that followed.”
Cheer Up Peter Reid, Trinity Mirror Sport Media, RRP £18.99. On sale Thursday October 5 from Amazon, book shops and sportmediashop.com. Ebook also available.
Don't miss part 2 of the Echo's serialisation on Premier Passions, transfer disasters and THAT song