How Sir Bob Murray made Sunderland a pillar of the community

Former chairman Sir Bob Murray has revealed how he succeeded in creating a female football revolution at Sunderland – more than three decades ahead of schedule. 

Sunderland are now seen as a model community club, with the Foundation of Light charity and its Beacon of Light home – both built by Murray – part of the fabric of life in and around the city. 

But having inherited a very different SAFC in 1986, and despite the Women’s Super League being almost another quarter of a century in the making, Murray quickly worked hard to widen the appeal of what was very much a boy’s club. 

And the fact that even now, 37 years on, he still sees echoes of the old, men-only Sunderland AFC in other major football clubs today makes Murray proud of what he achieved for women fans on Wearside decades ago. 

“When I took over the club in 1986, it was a very all-male, with 14,000 people; a really ‘old’ club,” said Murray, who has just published his autobiography, “I’d Do It All Again”. 

“Ladies used to get in for a pound, and blokes used to turn up with balloons up their shirts! It was very male, aggressive and there was a lot of hooliganism.” 

While football violence is, thankfully, all but gone from inside English grounds, Murray still senses that some clubs’ fanbases are too male dominated. 

“If you go to Leeds now, you’ll see the same thing. Everton is another one,” he added. “I’m not decrying them, but the fact is they’re very male and very old, the crowds there. 

“When you see us now on a Saturday, it’s full of women, kids and families. It’s wonderful.” 

And that journey began with some simple but effective PR decisions after the Black Cats won the old Division Three title in 1987-88 under the management of Denis Smith. 

“We won a trophy in 1988, and everyone paid a pound to a picture with the trophy. So that took 37,000 polaroids,” said Murray. “We used to have open days, people used to come to the boardroom and things like that.” 

And the former chairman, now an interested supporter and observer of Sunderland under the ownership of Kyril-Louis Dreyfus, believes yet more should currently be done to maintain the Black Cats’ status as a true club of the North East, and to reach out to a future fanbase. 

“I always tried through the community scheme in football to use it for the benefit of the club – for example, having 500 kids free at the game,” he said. 

“They’re starting to do that again, but not as much as I did.” 

“I’d Do It All Again,” the autobiography of Sir Bob Murray, is available now, published by Vision Sports Publishing.