Gary Bennett is the latest ex-SAFC player to have his say on what needs to happen at the club in order to bounce straight back to the Championship. Gary was here the last time the Lads found themselves in the third tier of English football and enjoyed an instant return. Benno reckons it’s important to get people in who have experience in the blood and thunder Third Division. He explained: “We added one or two characters to the team, players who knew the division, which enabled us with a little bit more quality to get us out of that division. “It is about winning games and we were week in, week out. The supporters loved it and when you have a winning team they will always be right behind you, which they were. We had some very good times in that division. It is important to bring in the right characters and people who know the division. A John MacPhail, he knew that division, we also had the likes of Marco Gabbiadini and Eric Gates as the strikers. It is about getting the players who understand the division and what is needed to get out of it. The supporters have always been there, no matter what. They will always be there.”
Benno then went on to praise the influence of his then manager Dennis Smith. The ex York City boss brought with him a positive mentality and his nous in the transfer market meant we were able to bring in the likes of Marco Gabbiadini, whose 21 goals went a long way in getting us promoted: “That was credit to Denis Smith. When he took over the job, his first words were ‘We are going to get straight back out of this division’. I think he even put his bonus on the line to do that. He had faith that we could do it. Sunderland will be going in as favourites to go straight back, you have to have that belief as a manager, players and football club that you can do it. It won’t happen over night, you have to believe that you can do that, and once you do and you have that team spirit and the supporters behind you – once you get on that roll – then there is no stopping you. No matter what level you are playing at, if you are winning games it changes the mentality. Win games, it becomes a habit, a good habit to have. You win games and sometimes you don’t even know how you’ve done it. We had big characters but it was important for myself as well being captain to stay with the club. I had opportunities, I could have moved on. But it was my opportunity to hopefully get Sunderland back to where they needed to be. We had big characters in the team too and that is what you need. It is not just about me being captain. We had a very good blend of players, experienced players and young players coming through too, the likes of Gordon Armstrong, Gary Owers, Paul Lemon and Paul Atkinson. We had Marco Gabbiadini, a good mix of experience and young hungry players who wanted to establish themselves.”
Bennet hopes we target an immediate return to the Championship: “Sunderland will come back, that is a fact but the quicker they do it, the better it is. What you don’t want to be doing is lingering at that level and it takes you two or three seasons to get out of League One and back into the Championship.”
Bob The Builder...
In other, somewhat SAFC related news, former Chairman Bob Murray has spoken of his delight at being involved in the building of the Beacon of Light. He also described the pride he feels in being able to improve the city he quite clearly loves. He said: “I’m proud to be a Sunderland supporter and proud of what we built. The stadium and Academy of Light gave the football club the infrastructure to change its destiny. It’s not quite there yet, sadly, but I’m sure there are more positive chapters to come because the club has the platform for success. After I left Sunderland AFC I knew my work in the city was still not quite finished. I’m proud to be from the North East and wanted to give local people more opportunities too. There are still far too many young people who feel forgotten, despondent and hopeless which makes me angry because I know first-hand how that feels.”
The 71 year old endured a rocky start to life after suffering a serious injury at a young age. He explained: “When I was 12 I fell down the stairs during the night, sleepwalking. I hurt myself quite badly and was off school for a few months. I never really recovered from the time I missed off school - I wasn’t the brightest in the first place so I struggled. I didn’t have the best start in life and don’t have one fond memory of my school days. I was part of the baby boom after the war and unemployed for a year when I left school at 15. It had never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be working at the steel works like my dad but in my age group there were more people than jobs. Some of my mates went on shifts and they had money but I didn’t have a penny – there were no benefits back then. It was a traumatic time that left me feeling hopeless and like a failure. It was a real turning point for me because until that moment life had just taken its course. I suddenly realised that I couldn’t just take things for granted and if I wanted something I would have to work for it. I felt hopeless and guilty knowing how hard my mum and dad had to work. I felt I should be bringing in some money to pay my way, but I couldn’t and that was a big shock to me. Despite not enjoying school, I realised I would have to go back to education if I was going to change the direction my life was going. It took me years of night classes and day release to get qualified, but once I had I never looked back.”
The Beacon of Light will offer youngsters the chance to get healthy and educate themselves in the process - something very close to Murray’s heart. “As a young man I was also quite unhealthy and overweight because I didn’t really know any different,” said Murray. “I think at school I came nearly bottom in PE, which is quite ironic for someone who’d become chairman of a football club! In time, I knew this was another area of my life I had to tackle. I took up running and eventually ran ten marathons, all them in under three hours, and around 100 half marathons! I hope the Health and Wellbeing Zone at the Beacon will encourage more people to think more about their health. Building the Beacon has been like most of the challenges I’ve faced It hasn’t been easy and there have been lots of obstacles to overcome, not least finding the funds to build it. We’re not quite there yet but I’m certain we’ll get there in time. I’m proud to be from the North East and grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. I hope more like-minded people and businesses will consider helping us finish off what we’ve started.”
To celebrate being complete and utter shite once again, we’re bringing bring back this classic t-shirt from the 05/06 season. Looking back to those halcyon days under Mick McCarthy when we managed to amass an incredible 15 points to see us relegated from the Premier League.
Don’t worry we will reach those lofty heights again but until then we can take comfort in the fact that we’re all... still here when we are shit! Hardcore fans and Sunderland till we die, whichever league we are in and whoever owns the club. Players, manager and chairman come and go. Fans remain. We are the club… click here to view product