Captain's Blog: Time For Football, Not Words, To Shape Graham Perception

Scott Heavey

Danny Graham didn't get off to the best of starts with many Sunderland fans, but he can look to retiring Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher for an example of how it is football that shapes a legacy, not words.

As I watched him jog across the Madejski pitch as a second half substitute to make his debut with his surname and the number nine emblazoned across the back of his crisp new Sunderland shirt, it suddenly dawned on me that Danny Graham has stolen my dream.

"Graham, a local lad and Sunderland's new number nine" definitely marked a significant milestone in the career and life plan that the 7-year-old me drew up in painstaking detail as he was kicking a rolled-up ball of socks around the dining room on many a winter evening whilst hoping the sound of it pinging against the glass patio doors wouldn't rouse parental investigation.

I must admit, however, that in my fantasies I was the subject of unquestioning reverence from the Sunderland faithful and certainly not, as is the case for Danny Graham, cautious open-mindedness at the very best.

Much has been made of the hostile reception afforded to Graham at the Stadium of Light last month when he visited with Swansea. With a move to Wearside looking imminent, some controversial comments made by him during his Watford days in which he claimed Sunderland would be the very last team he'd choose to support had caught up with him, and fans took their opportunity to make their disdain known.

He received a more rapturous welcome from the traveling contingent at Reading, and then again for his home debut against Arsenal last week, but it would be reasonable to suggest that the striker has some work to do to properly win over a large section of the Black Cats support who feel uncomfortable trusting a self-proclaimed Newcastle fan to give his all in red and white.

He has been fortunate in a sense. The recent clamour for a more attacking line-up has seen a swift shift in public opinion in his favour. Suddenly his inclusion has become the barometer by which Martin O'Neill's attacking intent is being judged and his popularity has been enhanced almost by association.

If, however, the former-Boro man is still seeking some inspiration in his quest to cast off the words of the past and endear himself to a passionate and partisan support, then he should cast his gaze towards Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher, who last week announced that this season will be his last as a player.

When Carragher does retire, he will leave having etched his name into his club's folklore with blanket regard as a bona fide Anfield legend, and rightly so.

But before he was a Liverpool legend, before he was proudly lifting the Champions League trophy in Istanbul, before he was throwing himself in where it hurt to make last-gasp tackles for his team, before he was even a red, Carragher was a blue. More than that, in fact. He was the self-confessed ‘biggest Blue in Bootle', as he revealed in a savagely candid interview a few years ago.

'I was a total Everton fanatic right through my childhood and teens.

'Everton controlled my life and dominated my thoughts 24/7. I went to the away games, followed them across Europe and in the mid-80s went to Wembley so often it began to feel like Alton Towers.

'When I talk about that Everton team I still say 'we'. Even when I was playing for Liverpool reserves I'd want Everton's first team to win the derby every time.'

It is slightly different, of course. He had ten years of service for Liverpool behind him before he revealed this, but it wasn't as if his boyhood allegiances were ever a secret.

But Carragher is living and current proof of an irrevocable footballing truth - it is never a player's words that shapes his legacy or perception.

Those comments made by Carragher should also serve to put into perspective what were little more than throwaway nothing comments from Graham. If he can say that he was an Everton fanatic even to the point that when he was employed at their biggest rivals he still rooted for the Toffees to win the Merseyside derby and then go on to show the kind of commitment and passion he has to Liverpool, then who could really care less about Graham once saying he'd prefer not to support Sunderland if given a choice?

There is no question that Danny Graham has to prove himself to the Sunderland support. They will make him accountable and place expectations upon him.Just like every other player who has ever played for the club, then. He isn't really any different.

Despite the hostile welcome and indignant exit, it shouldn't be forgotten that it took just a solitary goal for the now vilified Michael Chopra to hear his name reverberate around the Staduim of Light in song. You could call it naïve, fickle, or anything else you want, but at the root of it is just simple honest emotion - the heart ruling the head.

We are always searching for a hero, and the tainted ones are always the most captivating. If Graham does the business on the pitch, he will be embraced. There is no question about that. Let's hope he notches a couple of early goals to help him on his way.

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