So who’s next? Will Ellis Short stick with Bally or go for one of the candidates we’ve seen mentioned – for example Gus Poyet, Rene Meulensteen, Gianfranco Zola and Stuart Pearce – or someone else entirely? Whoever it is, we should expect it to mean work for the Sunderland-born, Sunderland-supporting artist Owen Lennox, who now describes his labour of love …
In the 83/84 season when Alan Durban was the manager, Sunderland made an important signing, Chris Stevens. Rarely had Roker Park seen such artisty. Not since the board had commissioned the Hemy painting that now hangs majestically in reception at SoL had the club invested in so much money in art. Chris Stevens was appointed as artist in residence on a year’s contract valued at £7,000.
As a Sunderland AFC supporter, from Roker and a recent art college graduate, I’d applied for the post only to be beaten to the job by Chris. He was a Spurs fan but, in retrospect, the club probably made the right decision.
Fine art and football are not natural bedfellows but there are a few footballers who paint. Jody Craddock and David James spring to mind. Joey Barton, a big fan of Lucian Freud, is often seen at the major London galleries and David Beckham has splashed his cash on a Damien Hirst.
But it’s a short list.
Armed with the knowledge that fine art and footy may therefore be as compatible as a sponge leg and rain, I have – foolishly some might say – painted several star players. For one or two of them I even got paid for my efforts: Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters to name the two.
So why did I set out to record the passing of that endangered species, the Sunderland manager? Optimism is the answer, each new manager heralds a fresh dawn a new regime, a new brush to paint over our inglorious history (only recently, Owen, we were a force to reckon with in the 1890s -ed).
I started with the Mighty Quinn, not the greatest manager, but not a bad portrait and he did fill us all with hope. Hope became a double act with Keane and promotion. Was this the sleeping giant rising from his slumber? No! The sleeping giant turned over for another 40 winks.
The Keane portrait was a good painting and the first of the series to sell, even though it was to a Man U supporter. Then came Ricky Sbragia, probably my favourite portrait; he had the look of Robert Di Nero’s older brother and he kept us up, another nailbiter.
All hail The Bruce, not my best effort but he was good bloke and not a bad manager. A quick game of musical chairs and we managed to avoid the drop again, this time thanks to Martin O’Neill. He was riding on the crest of a wave when I sold his portrait, bought by Ian Potts who does a great job of curating the Bakehouse Gallery at St Peter’s, Monkwearmouth (the one portrait missing from the gallery above; Ian has been asked and if he sends a photo of it, I will add it – ed).
The music stopped again and MON was gone, sitting in his seat was Paulo Di Canio and with blazing brushes his likeness was immortalised in oils, I thought I’d better be quick as I didn’t think he’d last long. I was hoping to have it finished framed and flogged before the first dab was dry, but no, he hangs all forlorn on my studio wall.
So who’s next, Kevin Ball, Hope Powell? Whoever it is, I’ll have him or her on the canvas before you can say relegation battle. Watch this space.
And finally, a little quiz. Well, one question: how many paintings of footballers are in the National Portrait Gallery? Over to the cultured Salut! Sunderland readership …
* Owen Lennox was born in Sunderland 1950, had a variety of jobs but has mostly been an art teacher since graduating from Sheffield in 1978. This year he left teaching to pursue a career in as an artist and author. His first novel, The Picture of Joe Roc, was published in 2007 you can see it on the Waterstones site at ISBN 978-0-9556137-0-8 or read about it here: http://salutsunderland.com/2010/10/peter-otoole-joe-roc-and-a-love-letter-to-sunderland/
A life long Sunderland supporter and lover of the game, Owen played amateur football until he was injured during a match at the age of 45.
Owen has completed a long list of celebrity commissions over the years and his paintings are collected in the UK and abroad. He is currently being represented by Gallery 43, 43 Moulsham Street Chelmsford.
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