Sunderland AFC’s new managing director has revealed the role stars Jools Holland and Sir Tom Jones played in persuading him to return to the club he loves.
Lifelong Black Cats fan Tony Davison worked at Sunderland between 1996 and 2005, with spells in the ticket office, sales, the commercial department, and even the odd stint inside club mascot Samson, but had long since moved on in a career which took him to Wembley and then Spurs.
He told the audience at last night’s Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards that he had been working at the London club when he was approached by new director Charlie Methven about the possibility of returning home.
“We were in the pub chatting away about Sunderland and football. Charlie said ‘Come and join us at Sunderland,’ and I said ‘Well, I’m perfectly happy at Spurs.’
“Then we had a night out in Mayfair, at a private members club in the West End. We’re sat there having dinner when, lo and behold, the piano behind us starts up and it’s Jools Holland.
“Jools Holland starts playing the piano and then Tom Jones comes out and starts singing.
“Charlie said ‘I’ve done this just for you.’ Typical PR man. ‘I’ve done this just for you, come and join us and be MD at Sunderland.’
“I said ‘Oh MD, I thought you meant commercial director. Yeah, I’m in.’
“It was easy.”
Turning the club around was the most daunting challenge he and the rest of the new team in charge at the Stadium of Light had ever faced: “The biggest challenge is the one we’ve got here,” said Tony.
“We’re in a fortunate position that myself, Stewart, Charlie, Juan and Jack are all about the same age, we’re all in our early 40s, we’re still young enough to put all the hours in God sends to try and deliver this thing and until we have done this, we’ve not done anything.
“I’ve had a lot of fun doing that stuff, but this is the challenge, this is what it’s all about, and this is what we have to deliver.”
Tony knows how big a boost for the city success on the pitch can be and is keen to rebuild the club’s relationship with its fellow Wearside businesses.
“We did have a period there where the club, for whatever reason, wasn’t really engaging with the business community . It is really important that we get out there and speak to people again,” he said.
“I met with a restauranteur a few weeks ago and said ‘What can we do to help you do more business?’.
He said one word: ‘Win.’ Whenever Sunderland win, every bar is full, every restaurant is full.
“Last Saturday Charlie Methven rings up and he says ‘Where are you having dinner?’. I said ‘Why’ and he said ‘I can’t get in anywhere in town.’
I said ‘Well that’s your fault. If you hadn’t been winning football matches, you’d have been able to get a table no bother in Sunderland.’
“But after a win, you couldn’t get a table. If the club can take the business community along for the ride, then the sky’s the limit.”
The club’s profile was good for the city as a whole, said Tony.
“We’ve got a documentary going out on Netflix in mid-December. That will go out to millions of people all over the world and it is beautiful,” he said.
“The city is set in a really good light. Yes, it is a industrial heartland, it is a working class area but at the same time there are a lot of great people here.
“As a city, it’s got heart.”