YOU don’t get much more of a dramatic changes in a club’s direction than the creation of a fantastic new stadium.
But the arrival of Niall Quinn and Drumaville at the club was up there with it, as the iconic Irishman and his consortium took control of the club from an exhausted Bob Murray
It was not the smoothest of takeovers, but once in power, Quinn and his Irish band of backers were a breath of fresh air and the fun and the booze and the happy times flowed.
Quinn is one of the most articulate men I have ever met and certainly the most articulate footballer.
I had the pleasure of doing an Echo column with him in his first full season at the club. You could tell from the start he was an absolute natural with the media.
And his connection with Sunderland fans, utterly genuine and incredibly heartfelt, was staggeringly successful
Thousands of supporters have a personal “Quinny story” from having met the great man and who can forget the unintentional PR coup of his “these are my people” speech at Bristol airport when he spent £8,000 on taxis rescuing stranded Sunderland fans after a cancelled flight?
He had innovative, fresh ideas as a new chairman too, like wanting to create a system where players rather than clubs paid their agents – as happens in the acting profession – but, like a lot of his good ideas, he found it difficult to get support from his fellow chairmen.
He was unimpressed with me on the day of Roy Keane’s appointment describing the move to Sky viewers as “kill or cure”.
I think he would have hoped for me to be more of a cheerleader for the club.
But it was impossible to describe Keane – as Niall had trailed him – as a: “world-class manager” when Keane had never managed a club in his life.
The great man also took issue at the time with an article I wrote criticising the fact that the first Sunderland fans knew about now being in the ownership of an American billionaire was when it leaked from financial newspapers months after the fact.
Niall regarded the acquisition of a super-rich backer to do battle with the rest of the Premier League money-men as the best bit of business he would ever do as chairman.
I don’t know if he still feels that way. Maybe he does.
But I do think it is important that people feel free to raise questions about the openness, running and conduct of their local club without being made to feel disloyal.
And while Ellis Short has unquestionably been a positive addition to the club in terms of finance, no-one should be reproached for raising questions of accountability and direction at the top.
After all, Short, a good custodian overall, admits he makes mistakes – the appointment of Roberto Di Fanti as director of football arguably being a bigger one than the recruitment of Paolo Di Canio as head coach.
Bottom line on Niall Quinn though?
One of the greatest men ever to cross the threshold of Sunderland Football Club.