Reid stokes Roker ambitions

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The Independent Online
Having put the sun back into Sunderland, Peter Reid is bronzing himself on a Magaluf beach this weekend. Whether he can keep fulfilling Roker Park expectation in the revived hotbed of football remains to be seen.

Sunderland's scouse saviour can bask in the afterglow of an achievement that proved beyond Kevin Keegan. When he was voted manager of the season by the League Managers' Association last Tuesday he succeeded in depriving Alex Ferguson of some silverware.

Had Eric Cantona (who else?) not come to the rescue 10 minutes from time, Reid would have also stifled Fergie's Double ambitions in the third round of the FA Cup in January. As it was, his 14-month transformation of Sunderland from Second Division material to Premiership newcomers was deemed by his peers to deserve acclaim as the managerial feat of the season.

Come August, though, there will be no looking back for the old Evertonian midfield dynamo - just a neighbourly glance north to St James' Park and south to the Riverside Stadium. For only the second season since Arthur Appleton christened England's far corner the hotbed of soccer with his 1960 book of that name, the North-east's three leading clubs will be bedfellows and rivals in the top division.

Sunderland swiftly returned from whence they came on the last occasion. They were relegated straight back to the old Second Division at the end of the 1976-77 season - as indeed they were the last time they reached the top flight, via the back door left ajar by Swindon's misdemeanours six years ago.

Success for Reid would be mere safety. Sunderland haven't finished in the top half of the top division for 40 years; 13th in 1983-84 is their best since then.

Bob Stokoe is the only manager who has won a trophy-glinting place in the sun for Sunderland since 1937. "Statistics tell the truth," he said. "Sunderland were one of the leading sides in the old First Division in the mid-1950s. A succession of managers have failed to re- establish them. I was one of them."

Stokoe, of course, inspired Sunderland's miraculous FA Cup triumph of 1973. The trilbied messiah didn't win the manager of the year award - "Bill Shankly pipped me," he recalled - but that Wembley slaying of Leeds remains the North-east's only big domestic success since Stokoe played centre-half in Newcastle's FA Cup winning side in 1955. It took him three more seasons to guide Sunderland to promotion, though, and he resigned after nine matches of the 1976-77 First Division campaign.

Now 65 and living in retirement in his native Northumberland, Stokoe reflected: "We just weren't good enough when we went up. I failed but I think I was unlucky. I had a team that might have done well but there was a pay freeze after we won the cup and the 1973 side was broken up.

"Peter Reid hasn't got that problem. He knows he's got to spend a lot of money. He's lived in the Manchester area, which really is a hotbed of soccer, and he knows what he has to do. He's shrewd and down-to-earth. He knows it's all about what he does from now, not what's gone."

Reid has already been a manager in the upper reaches of the top flight. He guided Manchester City into the top six in successive seasons before he was sacked after four games of the 1993-94 campaign.

They're still counting the cost at Maine Road. And they're still counting the coffers at Roker Park to make sure the manager of the year stays for the last season before Sunderland move to the 40,000-seater stadium being built on the site of the old Wearmouth Colliery.

Reid still has a year of his contract to run, and though he is to be offered an improved three-year deal on his return from Spain the financial guarantee he wants is the pounds 10m Bob Murray, Sunderland's main shareholder, promised for team-building in the event of promotion.

Murray allowed Denis Smith to recruit only Peter Davenport and Kevin Ball when Sunderland last won promotion, but Rokerites have been heartened by the fact that Reid has already held talks with Ian Rush, and that Uwe Rosler also features on his wanted list. "The board will have to support him," Stokoe said. "If they don't, I'm sure one or two other clubs would like to give him an opportunity after what he's done for Sunderland."

Manchester City, for one, could do with a little cheering up.