We are all aware of some of the negative views that people have about our great sport. I even have a fair few of my own. But it is important to occasionally pat our sport on the back and remind ourselves that it would not be the biggest sport in the world if it only had evil running through its veins.
At the end of a week that saw Carlos Tevez step miles over the proverbial line by refusing to cross the very real one at the side of the pitch, an announcement was issued from a mid table, somewhat unglamorous but well supported side that threw into sharp relief the antics of the despicable Argentine. Niall Quinn was to step down as chairman at Sunderland AFC.
There was not a more loved chairman in world football. Sunderland fans love the man and have done almost since the day he arrived in the late 90’s from Manchester City as a player. And in a refreshing change from the normal player fan relationship, Quinn loved them back. In a quote now universally known in Sunderland the Irishman said, “I learned my trade at Arsenal, became a footballer at Manchester City, but Sunderland got under my skin. I love Sunderland.”
In his days as a player, he struck up a fantastic partnership with Kevin Phillips which saw the Mackems propel themselves to consecutive seventh place finishes at the start of the century, the highest the club has finished since the Second World War. But it is not for this simple reason that he is loved. Quinn held his testimonial game at the Stadium of Light and donated all the proceeds to children’s charities in the north east and in Ireland. And in 2006, with Sunderland once again a second tier club, he led the Drumaville consortium in their takeover and installed Roy Keane as manager. From bottom of the Championship in 2006 to a top half finish last season, Quinn has been the constant driving force at Sunderland.
There are many stories about Quinn that help to explain his popularity but the best for me is the occasion that he paid for around 100 Sunderland fans to get home from Bristol Airport after their flight was cancelled after a victory away at Cardiff. Rather than see them have to wait until the morning to get home, Quinn stumped up £8,000 for 16 taxis for the group back to the north east, in a moment of generosity that will long be remembered by Sunderland fans.
In his time at Sunderland he has sold the club to Texan billionaire Ellis Short who will now take over as chairman, surely a sign that things are moving in the right direction at a club that not too long ago was the typical yo-yo side with little or no stability. The fact that he has achieved this with a constant smile and a real bond with the fans is a credit to his infectious personality. Not many people in football can claim to have no enemies, but Niall Quinn is certainly one of them.