Football: Reid sees light in promise of new beginning

First came relegation, then defeat in the play-off finals, but Sunderland's manager cannot wait to begin again.
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The Independent Online
IT TOOK an enforced four-day break, a telephone call to his mentor and what he termed a disappointing World Cup to do the trick, but Peter Reid's play-off depression of May has been replaced by August anticipation and excitement.

Reid's Sunderland side begin their new league campaign this afternoon at their impressive Stadium of Light home against Queen's Park Rangers and, despite the horrors of losing a promotional play-off final on penalties to Charlton, following last-day relegation from the Premiership the season before, the mood is upbeat.

"It's not a problem for me, or for any of us," Reid insists. "At least not anymore. It doesn't matter how long you've been in football, the start of the season is always a special time, full of hope and expectation, and I can't wait."

In his long career as a player and manager Reid has grown used to the ups and downs of football, but even his powers of motivation were initially stretched after falling to Charlton at Wembley.

"I went away immediately," he admits. "It wasn't a planned break, but I knew, almost as soon as we missed that last penalty, that I just had to get away. I only went for four days, but it didn't half help. When you're away with your family, it helps to place things in perspective."

Reid also picked up the telephone and continued a process he has enjoyed and utilised virtually ever since the day he left Bolton as a player back in the early 1980s. "I spoke to Ian Greaves, my old manager, as I have done for donkey's years," Reid explains.

"He has helped me ever since I left Bolton, and I sought solace from him. I wouldn't say Wembley was my worst-ever experience in football. I recall once being out injured for a year when I was a young player, wondering whether I would ever return. But losing to Charlton in the way we did certainly comes close.

"Anyway, Ian Greaves told me that, for all the changes in football in the past 20 years, the manager's job remains the same. The main fact was that we played great football throughout the season, scored more goals than anyone else, and filled our fantastic stadium every fortnight."

The final factor in the rehabilitation of Peter Reid took place while he spent some of the summer at the World Cup in France. "I honestly thought the World Cup was very poor," he reasons.

Really? "Yes, I felt the refereeing was a joke, and I couldn't stand all the play-acting that went on. Believe it or not, it whetted my appetite for the First Division, and the Premiership. I honestly believe that the football you will see this season in my league will be better than much of what we had to put up with in France. By the end of the World Cup, I couldn't wait to get on with the job at Sunderland."

But what of the players? Have they come to terms with their disappointment less than three months ago? "Definitely," Reid replies. "And I'll tell you why. Most of them are still very young. They don't have much excess baggage to carry on their shoulders, and they just love playing football. Of course it was a blow to them, but it didn't last long. The elder ones, players like Niall Quinn, have seen it all before, so they know how these things tend to even themselves up.

"I can actually see an awful lot of positives coming out of losing to Charlton. I would've taken promotion any day, but it has provided the team with a good, footballing experience. The players can only be better from this. The best people in sport learn from their failures, and it makes success so much sweeter."

What, though, of Michael Gray, the poor, hapless forward who will most likely never forget his crucial penalty miss that cemented Charlton's victory? "Oh, he's alright," comes back the answer, with a chuckle. "He's got long, blonde hair and, if it had been me, I would have gone around wearing a balaclava, but he's not hiding from anyone."

Refreshingly, Reid does not even have any complaints about the manner in which Sunderland failed to reach the Premiership. Despite all the arguments of Sunderland clearly being, on league position, the third-best side in the First Division, the manager accepts the facts with a rueful shrug of his shoulders.

"We never had a divine right to go up, just as Manchester City didn't have a divine right to stay in the division," he argues. "We all know the play-offs are a lottery, but we all knew the rules at the start of the season. Teams that get promoted deserve to go up, and teams that fail don't. It's as simple as that."

So what of this season? After relegation and then last-gasp disappointment, do Sunderland have to gain promotion this time? "Well, I'm not daft," Reid accepts. "Of course we have to get promoted, but there are at least half-a-dozen other clubs in this league who have to get promoted.

"The good thing about this club is that we are all in it together, right the way up to the chairman. I have a brilliant relationship with him, and he lets me just get on with it. We've got a great chance, of course, but I have long learned to aim for just one thing in football."

What's that, then? "We've got to win on Saturday. And after that, we've got to win the following Saturday." He laughs at his own explanation. "Sounds pretty straight-forward, doesn't it?"