The departure of Tony Mowbray has hurt many SAFC fans. Although the club’s form has been mixed in recent weeks, although most blame this on recruitment, Tony was a well liked, respectable, down to earth and humble man who established Sunderland back in the Championship and took them to the playoffs. He played a small hand extraordinarily well. Because of that, he will be remembered positively by fans at a time where not every manager has been.
Here, we walk through managers who are deemed “popular” or “unpopular” due to their legacies at SAFC and discuss how they are remembered.
Popular: Roy Keane
Roy Keane’s management at Sunderland was a captivating period which restored self-belief and esteem in the club after a disastrous last few years. On his first season as manager, Keane rescued SAFC from a nightmare start and established them as league champions creating a squad so determined that they never gave up and often won with miraculous last minute victories. Not only that, but he then established SAFC in the Premier League by avoiding relegation and opened up a ten year stint. Keano was a larger than life figure, although few would argue he is suitable for the role again as his career in management has nonetheless proved unstable due to his bad temper and aggression.
Unpopular: David Moyes
David Moyes was a man who arrived on Wearside with high expectations, yet managed to establish himself as one of the most loathed managers in recent times. Despite proving himself a capable manager at Everton and West Ham, barring a disastrous stint at Man United, Moyes set the mood by publicly acknowledging SAFC were in a relegation battle from the get go and sank morale. He failed to keep the club up and ended a decade in the Premier League, which we are yet to return to. Some blame however, goes to the club’s ownership and executive management at that time.
Popular: Sam Allardyce
Big Sam arrived on Wearside to get a job done, and he done it. He kept the lads up by producing a determined and disciplined team true to his record as a manager. However, his stint was cut short by the fact England came calling, and to make it worse he got himself caught in a massive scandal over bribes in a recorded sting operation after just one game which forced him to quit the post. It was an unfortunate series of events that ultimately set us on a downward spiral, but Big Sam remains a well liked and decent manager who brought some good memories during his time at the Stadium of Light.
Unpopular: Simon Grayson
Simon Grayson was a budget motivated disastrous appointment which opened up a horror show of a season from 2017-2018 that seen the lads suffer a consecutive relegation to the third tier. Uninspiring and tactically inept, he will undoubtedly go down as one of the worst SAFC managers ever, but it also speaks volumes concerning the context he operated in.
Popular: Martin O’Neill
The Ulsterman Martin O’Neill long had a passion for SAFC as a boyhood fan and was appointed as a successful and quality Premier League manager who had done well with Aston Villa. Things got off the ground well as people hoped and he became well liked for this, with the Daily Telegraph even speculating that we could have been challengers for Europe. However, things ultimately went downhill and after an eight game run without a win he was sacked. Despite this, he remains a respectable manager and there are no fan grudges or resentments held against him.
Unpopular: Phil Parkinson
Phil Parkinson, who took the helm following Jack Ross’s dismissal while the lads were in League One, is probably viewed as the most uninspiring manager SAFC has ever had in modern times. His lack of charisma, leadership and appeal is demonstrative of this low existence we found ourselves in and of course manifested itself in him leading us to the worst finish the club has seen in its history, failing even to attain a place in the playoffs of League One. Phil is bland and totally forgettable.
Popular: Gus Poyet
The Uruguayan Gus Poyet was a successful manager at SAFC who brought us many memories. Not only did he beat Newcastle United more times than any other Sunderland manager (3 out of the 6 in a row), but he also got us to the Carabao Cup final. However, the instability at the top of the club, bad player recruitment (such as signing Jack Rodwell) and the negative influence that stemmed from that led to his downfall. It might have been a mistake, looking back, to have gotten rid of him.
Unpopular: Howard Wilkinson
Another SAFC gaffer who will go down as one of the worst of all time. The dull Howard Wilkinson set up the infamous 19 point season in 2002-2003 with tactical ineptness and a lack of inspiration, producing disasters such as when Sunderland lost 3-1 at home to Charlton through a hattrick of own goals. It is quite obvious Peter Reid would have not led us to such a fate even though we were struggling to score goals and had engaged in panic laden signings.
Popular: Peter Reid
Peter Reid is possibly the most popular former SAFC manager of modern times. Reid taken the black cats into a sparkling new era that coincided with the new Stadium of Light, unleashing a feel good euphoria amongst fans along with some of the most legendary players to grace this club, including Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn. Having saved the lads from relegation in 1995, he taken Sunderland to the Premier League for the first time and although he was unsuccessful in keeping us up, the correct decision was made to stand by him. After a playoff penalty heartbreak, Reid subsequently roared us back up in 1999 with a record points tally and then we finished 7th twice. It never got better than this. There are no hard feelings in the decline that followed and he continues to attend many SAFC events and functions, where people love to see him.
Controversial: Paolo Di Canio
In 2013 the SAFC board made the unusual decision to appoint Italian self-professed Fascist Paolo Di Canio as manager. Despite this, Paolo unleashed his short reign by hammering Newcastle United 3-0 at St. James’ Park, opening up the 6-0 in a row. The scenes of him sliding on the turf brought unforgettable memories. However, this only eluded to his highly erratic and aggressive personality which while determined, was unsuitable to manage a football team. Things quickly went downhill after he lost respect and morale of the players, who voted him out with their feet. Because of all this, views of Paolo are divisive, people appreciate those moments, but ultimately recognise it wasn’t tenable to have him in the job and that his personality and views, were not appropriate.
Popular: Kevin Ball
Although not a manager in the true sense, Kevin Ball taken over SAFC several times as a caretaker manager as part of his near 30 year service to the club, most notably in heading the end of the disastrous 2005-2006 15 point season. These were all low moments, but Ball has long been one of the most respected and well liked men on Wearside due to his humility and good nature. A friendly face and a great man, the level of trust and respect the fans have for him is up amongst the very best.
Unpopular: Steve Bruce
Wallsend lad Steve Bruce took over Sunderland in 2009 at an optimistic time where the board were willing to invest in taking the Black Cats upwards. Unfortunately, he was the wrong man to do it. While he brought some good players in such as Darren Bent and even sent us flying at the start of his first season, Bruce’s legacy was tainted by “underachievement” with the best SAFC squad in recent times at his hands.
We finished 13th and 10th, which is good and in fact, the second best finish we’d ever achieved in the Premier League, but a since of “missed opportunity” surrounds it due to the long winless runs we endured throughout. The fans ultimately turned on Bruce by 2011 and quickly used his Newcastle roots against him. Since that time Bruce has shown himself to be a good championship level manager, but not suited for anything above a relegation contending Premier League team.
Popular: Ricky Sbragia
The Scottish-Italian Ricky Sbragia was a coach under Roy Keane at SAFC who took over on an interim basis after Keano walked in 2008. However, after Ricky delivered two thumping victories against West Brom and Hull, the board decided to give him the job for the rest of the season. Ricky succeeded in keeping Sunderland up at the position of 16th. He was a very humble and likeable man who took the pressure of a top job and done it well. This made him a legend of sorts amongst SAFC fans. After two additional at years Sunderland as a scout, he continued his coaching career spending years at Scotland and then Manchester United.
Unpopular: Lawrie McmEnemy
Lariw McmEnemy, dubbed “Mackemenemy” also goes down as one of the all-time hated SAFC managers. McmEnemy is credited for taking Sunderland down into the 3rd tier for the first time in the club’s history in 1987 when he was appointed two years previous to in fact take Sunderland back up. He was also the highest paid manager in English football at the time, making his an appointment a historic disaster.
Popular: Bob Stokoe
The Northumbrian Bob Stokoe is undoubtedly the most revered SAFC manager of all time, that is because he was at the helm of the triumphal 1973 FA Cup win when the club rose against the odds as a second division side to beat Leeds United. He is after all, the only SAFC gaffer to have a statue of himself, depicting his iconic run onto the pitch on the full time whistle. Despite the fact that Bob was reappointed again to unsuccessfully try and save Sunderland from relegation in 1987 (see the above manager’s legacy), there are no grudges held towards this true footballing great who represented the true spirit of the game at its very best.