Easily one of the most satisfying elements of football right now is seeing Lee Cattermole finally getting a little recognition. He was honoured as the North East Player of the Year and received plaudits far and wide for his imperious performance against Chelsea.
One man who is apparently not convinced, though, is former Sunderland midfielder Don Hutchison, who wrote this week that Cattermole winning the North East Player of the Year award was reflective of a saddening slipping of standards in the region. Hmmm...
Now, I loved Hutchison as a player for Sunderland. I also respect him as a columnist. I'm a weekly columnist for the Chronicle myself, so I don't subscribe to the theory that it's a case of anti-Sunderland bias from the Newcastle press. Poorly timed given his performance against Chelsea, which was as good as anything you'll see anywhere in the world, but it's nothing sinister. It is simply that Hutchison is wrong.
Over the last twelve months, Cattermole's contribution has been at least the equal of anything produced by any Sunderland midfielder I've seen over any comparable period. You could debate how contribution is measured, I suppose, and that could be quite a subjective topic given the vast spectrum of football's appeal.
However, can it be a coincidence that the very qualities - doggedness, tenacity, energy, and hunger to defy the odds - that have defined Sunderland over the last year have been the ones that Lee Cattermole inspires? Not only did they define Sunderland, they SAVED Sunderland.
Let's not pretend that saving Sunderland last season last season was some kind of formality barely worthy of acknowledgemnent, either. It was a massive achievement. No one is saying that Cattermole was alone in contributing to it - Gus Poyet, Connor Wickham and Seb Larsson at the very least deserve massive mentions there - but it was Cattermole who's on-pitch contribution embodied the spirit that produced it.
Let's also not forget that there has been a major cup final in the middle of all this too. How many of those has the North East had to enjoy in the last few years? Not enough, I'd say, to downplay the achievements of anyone who helps finally deliver one.
Hutchison's central thesis seems to be that Cattermole shouldn't be appreciated to award-winning level because he isn't a flair player you'd want to watch. Forgetting the fact that Hutchison previously described Cheick Tiote as a flair player, since when has the region looked down our noses at hard-working competitors who fight for every ball? Listen to the roar from any north east crowd you'd care to mention when a tackle or block flies in. Why should anyone be belittled for appreciating - or providing - that?
And what exactly is wrong with the north east's 'standards' of footballers anyway?
Jordan Henderson has probably become England's first choice midfielder. Jack Colback is an established Premier League performer now and has an England call-up to his name. Stewart Downing is in fine form for West Ham, back in the England squad, and has had a great career. Michael Carrick never played in the North East, but he's one of ours and has plenty of medals kicking about. Adam Johnson's quality is unquestioned. Lee Cattermole has been a Premier League player for nine years now.
Granted, as a region we struggle to hang on to our best products, but that's nothing new. Let's not pretend that Paul Gascoigne, Bryan Robson, Chris Waddle and the like didn't have their best days after leaving the North East. It's been going on for decades and we shouldn't just ignore that to suit a narrative.
I know that Hutchison has an opinion, and that's fair enough. He's both entitled and welcome to it. I just dispute every part of it. North East football should be proud of itself, and we should be proud of Lee Cattermole.