The great artist Salvador Dali once said:
Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it.
This week's Cult Hero, an accomplished artist himself, was easily the most talented defender that I had seen in the red and white of Sunderland during the early stages of my burgeoning love affair with the club. A love affair that swiftly became an obsession.
Jody Craddock enjoyed a fantastic rapport with the Sunderland faithful, forged over his six year stay at the Stadium of Light. Together Craddock and the fans shared the rollercoaster ride of emotions that this great sport throws up as well as off the field tragedy.
Craddock joined the Black Cats in August of 1997 for a fee of just £300,000 with a further £200,000 payment to be made to his further employers Cambridge United based upon appearances. Aged twenty-two Craddock was expected to be given time to bed into the squad and was considered by Reid to be the fabled "one for the future". He also had a rather superb curtain style haircut. Beautiful it was.
First team football action was to be thrust upon the central defender earlier than expected as after a poor start to the season he was placed into the back four alongside Darren "I'll play anywhere gaffer" Williams. This firm foundation allowed the Black Cats to finally kick start the season and begin to climb up the table. Too little, too late however as Sunderland were to miss out on automatic promotion and face the now famous but doomed trip to the twin towers, no - not those twin towers.
Jody was an ever capable and dependable central defender, a talented all rounder if you will. Fantastic in the air but also confident with the ball at his feet. In fact Jody was probably the first defender I had seen at SAFC that had the ability to carry the ball out of defence, without A. giving the fans a heart attack or B. losing possession. It is also baffling to think that as a youngster Yeovil Town believed the talented 6'2" ginger lad was too small and wasn't offered a contract.
Equally as baffling was the next two seasons for the likeable defender as Jody found himself down the pecking order behind the, admittedly inform, Pies Butler and Mary Melville and also through injury. Craddock was even loaned out to Sheffield United during the 1999/00 return to the Premiership.
The last three season's of Craddock's SAFC career however saw the centre half see a lot more first team action, racking up ninety Premier League appearances and even finding the back of the net twice, showing the fans and most importantly the boss what he could offer the side.
In August of 2002 Jody's world was turned upside down when his four month old son Jake tragically passed away. What followed however I will never forget. The Sunderland fans once again showed their class as the club was swamped with letters and cards offering their sympathy and condolences for the popular defender. Donations from Mackems poured in for cot death charities in honour of young Jake. It was an incredible reaction from the Sunderland faithful and the reaction to Jody's eventual return to football was both emotional and touching.
Sunderland's return to the Championship for the 2003/04 season also saw Craddock make his exit from the SOL. Wolverhampton Wanderers paid Sunderland £1.75M for the twenty-eight year old, as Jody was ready to start a new chapter in his footballing career.
Whilst perfection may be out of reach in the eyes of Dali, Craddock came very close to achieving it for this humble fan.