Ex-Sunderland boss reveals how boardroom battles soured Wearside spell - and the time he was accused of leaking information

Former Sunderland manager Ken Knighton (right), pictured with Sam Allardyce.
Former Sunderland manager Ken Knighton (right), pictured with Sam Allardyce.
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Boardroom battles have been a constant in the experience of so many Sunderland managers over the years.

And in an interview with the club’s oldest surviving permanent Ken Knighton for new book ‘The Managers: Tales from the Red and Whites Volume 3’, the former boss reveals it was very much happening in his own time.

Knighton was Sunderland manager from 1979-81 and never had a comfortable relationship with his directors, as this extract from the book reveals:

“At the third board meeting I attended, I was sat in the office and the board were having the meeting.

“One of the directors came through from the meeting and said, ‘Have you got a key for the door that leads into the boardroom?’

“I said ‘Why would I have a key?’

“But he said ‘I just need to lock the door then’.

“I asked him why and what he meant, and he said to me that things had been getting out from the board meeting that they’d been having prior to the manager coming in and they wanted to stop it at source.

“I said, ‘Hang on a minute,’ it was Frank Cronin, but before I could really say anything he’d gone back into the boardroom.

“I was then called into the meeting.

“By chance it was my wedding anniversary and the chairman, who was Keith Collings said, ‘We won’t keep you long tonight Ken because we know it’s your anniversary’ but I said, ‘That’s okay because I won’t be staying long after the stroke that has just been pulled, more or less saying that I’m listening in to what you’ve been saying and then letting the press know.

“If you think that’s what I’m about then you can forget it.’

Then I stood up and walked out but before I got to the door Keith Collings said, “Mr. Manager we are not giving you permission to leave’.

I didn’t sit down, I just said, “Mr Chairman, I’m going.”

* The book launch will be held tonight at the Stadium of Light, when issues from the book will be discussed. Tickets can be bought here https://bit.ly/2JyzDh8, or fans can walk up on the night and pay on the door.

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Ken Knighton is the oldest surviving permanent manager of Sunderland Football Club having been in the hot seat from 1970-81.

He has not been back to the North East since his sacking and rarely spoken of his time at the club but in an extensive interview in new book ‘The Managers - Tales From the Red and Whites Volume 3’ he recalls his time at the club was marred by a poor relationship with club’s board.

Manager of Sunderland’s 1980 promotion winners, Ken Knighton told club historian Rob Mason how little he was appreciated by the board of the day but also how much promotion meant to him.

“I bet there’s nothing in the minutes of any board meeting where they mention me with regard to winning promotion,” he said.

“Not one mention was given in the first board meeting we had after winning promotion with regard to ‘Well done for winning promotion.’

“Nothing was ever said.

“I’ve got a plaque which was given to me by the Supporters’ Association along with a framed team photograph but from the board of directors I got nothing, not even a well done.”

Knighton’s battles with the board, specifically Tom Cowie, meant that even when things were going well on the pitch life was difficult, but regardless of that his achievement at Sunderland is something he looks back on as the peak of his career.

It is a rare man who rates his biggest game as one where he was manager - Peter Reid for instance had some fabulous times as Sunderland supremo but will always point to days when he had his boots on and was winning things as a player at Everton as his greatest moments.

Ken Knighton also had an extensive playing career, representing six clubs and once being chaired off the pitch after scoring a goal which kept Sheffield Wednesday up.

But after naming the promotion night against The Hammers as his greatest moment I give him the opportunity to pause and think about that.

There is no hesitation

“Without question it was my greatest moment” he insists. “I still feel a tingle down the spine just thinking about it.”

* The book launch will be held tonight at the Stadium of Light, when issues from the book will be discussed. Tickets can be bought here https://bit.ly/2JyzDh8, or fans can walk up on the night and pay on the door.