Lawrie McMenemy finally opens up about his Sunderland spell - and his ‘moonlight flit’ from Roker Park

Lawrie McMenemy
Lawrie McMenemy
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Lawrie McMenemy has spoken for the first time in-depth about his controversial spell as Sunderland boss.

McMenemy reveals all in the new book ‘The Managers: Tales from the Red and Whites Volume 3’, which is launched at the Stadium of Light this Friday.

It features the thoughts of five other Sunderland managers on their spell at the club: Ken Knighton, Malcolm Crosby, Peter Reid, Gus Poyet and Simon Grayson.

Reid and Crosby will be at the book launch on Friday night, (tickets here https://bit.ly/2JyzDh8).

But it is the thoughts of 82-year-old McMenemy who arrived at Sunderland as one of the most highly regarded managers in football in 1985 but left with his reputation in tatters in 1987, which will be most closely scrutinised by fans of a certain age.

Still a hate figure among many supporters, after his arrival was expected to signal Sunderland’s return to former glories, only to leave them on the brink of relegation to the third tier of English football, McMenemy’s chapter gives his version of events saying it was fairly clear from the start the club had problems on and off the field.

In this extract he reveals to club historian Rob Mason that he knew he might have challenges with the squad he inherited from his very first training session.

He recalls: “We went down to Seaburn where we were training on the beach.

“I said to the lads: ‘Right I’m not going to do a lot of talking, you’ve all heard I’m here, let’s get straight down to it.

“I need to get to know you so hope you’ve had a good summer and let’s get started’.

“They were doing their warm up with the trainer and they were jogging around and I said to the physio, ‘If I point to a player you tell me who he is’ - it wasn’t as if Sunderland were up the road from Southampton and I used to watch them regularly.

“They were totally at the other end of the country and I knew names but until I got in there I couldn’t get to know their nature.

“As they were running around I noticed one who was limping a bit so I asked: ‘who’s that there?’ That’s a bad start, he’s limping.

“The physio just said: ‘Cartilage’ and I thought, “Bloody hell, he’s good - the only bloke I knew who could recognise something from distance was Bob Paisley who had an art of doing it.

“I said, ‘How the hell do you know that?’ and he said ‘He had it at the end of last season.’

“I said ‘Hang on a minute, he had a cartilage problem at the end of last season and he’s been away all summer, why he hell didn’t he get it done?

“The physio said we told him he needed it, but he’d said ‘Not in my ******* time’ and walked out the door and went back for the close season.

“That was my first session.”

Tickets for the book launch, this Friday at the Stadium of Light 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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LAWRIE McMenemy arrived at Sunderland Football Club in the summer of 1985 feted as the new Messiah who would lead the Rokernen back to the top flight.

Big Mac was one of the biggest names in English football having taken medium-sized Southampton to unprecedented success at the top of the game.

He was big news, a big name, with many putting him in the same category as fellow North East bosses Bobby Robson and Bob Paisley.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Sunderland appointing him then would be like Sunderland appointing a Jose Mourinho or a Jurgen Klopp.

Expectations were through the roof but Sunderland never experienced a new manager bounce and were lucky to avoid relegation in his first season in charge, never mind win promotion.

His second season at the club was to see the club relegated to the old Third Division for the first time in the club’s proud history.

But before that demotion occurred, McMenemy had deserted the sinking ship, infamously leaving Sunderland under cover of darkness, having quit the club, in what was described as a ‘midnight flit’.

Already on the back foot, after news had leaked that in taking the job at Roker Park he’d become the highest paid boss in Britain, McMenemy’s departure in such circumstances opened him up to further criticism.

The Daily Mirror printed a giant cartoon of a rat with Lawrie’s face superimposed under the headline ‘King Rat!’

And now, more than 40 years on, he admits that he could have handled the way he headed off to his home in Hampshire so much better..

His life on Wearside, never easy given the club’s performances and results, had became intolerable after the colossal wages he was on were made public.

And his relationship with the North East media had been fractious for some time.

But the nature of his leaving - the first thing people knowing about it being when they read of his departure in The Sun newspaper - damned him further in the eyes of Sunderland fans.

“Hands up! That was one of the mistakes I made,” he admits in this extract from ‘The Managers: Tales from the Red and Whites, Volume 3.

“I let a friend of mine Alex Montgomery have the story.

“He was a London-based reporter and I let him know what I was going to do.

“I can understand why the north east reporters were annoyed because I knew how the media worked.

“Wallop!

“They were giving me it 100% because in their eyes I’d done a runner.

“Looking back that was a mistake.

“Hands up.

“Mistake.

“What I did was gather up Anne and other members of my family, packed our car and drove south early in the morning.

“By the time the rest of the media found out, I’d gone.

“Looking back, I can understand that wasn’t fair to them.

“They’d get stick from their editors so naturally they went, ‘bang’, two feet into me.

“A lot of what they said was over the top.

“For instance, I didn’t want to go.”

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