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Roy Keane as Sunderland manager in 2007.
Roy Keane as Sunderland manager in 2007.
Image: EMPICS Sport

'I watched Roy Keane stare down a cloud and make the wind go away'

Jonathan Wilson tells the tale as our latest guest on Behind the Lines.
Mar 31st 2020, 8:00 AM 47,686 22

THIS WEEK’S GUEST on Behind the Lines is author, journalist and editor Jonathan Wilson. 

If you’re unaware: Behind the Lines is our now-weekly sportswriting podcast available exclusively to The42 members. Each episode features a lengthy chat with a writer about their career and their favorite pieces of sportswriting. 

To sign up and get access to a 20-hour back catalogue, head over to members.the42.ie. 

Jonathan writes for a host of outlets including the Guardian and Sports Illustrated, is the editor of quarterly football magazine the Blizzard and has written a number of books, including the acclaimed Inverting the Pyramid.

You may also recognise him from his regular appearances on Second Captains and the Guardian’s Football Weekly (apparently there are other podcasts.)

Among Jonathan’s 11 books is Sunderland: A Club Transformed, which tells the story of the club’s 2006/07 season under the management of Roy Keane. 

With Sunderland mired at the bottom of the Championship following five straight defeats (one of them in the Cup to Bury, then 92nd of 92 in England’s football pyramid) Niall Quinn stood aside and upstairs to allow Keane take on his first job in management. 

Given Keane’s travails in coaching and management since, it’s sometimes forgotten how remarkably successful his debut season proved to be. Beginning from the very bottom, Keane took Sunderland to promotion as title winners, earning himself the Manager of the Year gong along the way. 

“Most Sunderland fans have the same opinion”, says Jonathan. “He obviously struggled as a manager at Ipswich and his time as an assistant manager has maybe been problematic in certain ways, but that first season at Sunderland was the most exciting thing, possibly more exciting than the Peter Reid era. 

soccer-roy-keane-press-conference-sunderland Niall Quinn and Roy Keane on the day Keane was unveiled as Sunderland manager. Source: PA

“Towards the end of that season it almost didn’t matter what the score was, you sort of knew that Sunderland would win. They had that thing that United had in 98/99, that they would be 1-0 down with 10 minutes to go and you’d expect them to win the game 2-1. And they often did.” 

A few games – and one elemental moment – stand out. 

“There was a game against Southampton near the end of the season when they were 2-1 down and scored two goals in the last 10 minutes. 

“The game against Burnley when promotion was secured was on a Friday night. David Connolly missed a penalty in the first half and they were 2-1 down with maybe 20 minutes to go, and Sunderland got another penalty. Connolly took it again: which is incredible courage when you’ve missed the first one, particulaly when your manager is Roy Keane. Sunderland won that game 3-2.

There was a game against Cardiff, which was remarkable and makes no sense to me. I think it was in March. We got down and it was a nice bright, sunny day, and then at quarter to three the clouds come over and the wind gets up and there is this absolutely howling gale. The game was a farce, and Sunderland had the wind in the first half and Cardiff could not get out of their own half. They just couldn’t kick the ball hard enough to get out of their half. Sunderland absolutely pounded them but they didn’t score. It gets to half-time and you think there’s no way Sunderland can hang on here, nil-nil will be a miracle.  Sure enough, Cardiff bombard Sunderland in the second half, and Jonny Evans was brilliant at taking the ball down and passing it out, gaining us 10 or 15 seconds every time.

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“But you’re just watching the clock and hoping they can get through to 90 minutes and get the point. Then without about 20 minutes to go, Keane wanders out to the edge of his technical area. These are the days when he had his huge, Prospero beard. 

“I was sitting next to Iwan Roberts who was doing Welsh language commentary, and we both saw this happen and we both talked about it afterwards.

“Roy Keane is standing at the edge of his technical area and he stares at the clouds. After about 20 seconds of Roy Keane staring at the clouds, the clouds part, the sun comes up and the wind drops. He tosses on Ross Wallace and he scores the winner. 

“Like, Roy Keane changed the weather! I watched Roy Keane stare down a cloud and make the wind go away.

“Once you have a manager who can change the weather, you sort of think, ‘We can do anything here.’” 

Listen to the full interview with Jonathan by subscribing here. 

To listen for free to some highlights from the first 12 episodes of this series, follow this link. 

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Gavin Cooney

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