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"I could have stayed at Sunderland for the rest of my career" - Roker Report Meets... Jody Craddock!

Jody Craddock - one of Peter Reid’s best signings - played at the heart of Sunderland's defence during our most successful period in modern times. We caught up with the big centre half to reminisce over his time as a player on Wearside.

Jody Craddock
Credit: Shaun Botterill /Allsport

RR: You joined the club in 1997 - the summer we moved to the Stadium of Light. There were other clubs interested in signing you, so why did you choose Sunderland?

JC: It was a big club - a big club in what is now the Championship - and it had huge potential. I was just a young boy down at Cambridge United and moving to Sunderland was a chance to prove myself at a bigger level. I just had that desire in me to prove myself. I had been on trial at the club actually for two weeks, which doesn’t really happen these days does it? It’s unheard of.

I came back to Cambridge after that, but I was more or less heading straight back up to Sunderland to sign after the trial, which was great.

RR: You came in alongside Kevin Phillips and the lesser known talent Chris Byrne - a little birdy tells me you played a rather hilarious trick on Byrne. What was the crack with that lad?

JC: Chris Byrne! That’s a blast from the past! We were all staying in a hotel in Washington. The three of us, we went for a drink down in the hotel bar. Chris ordered this big blue cocktail. Anyway, as he went to sit down, I pulled his chair away and all you saw was his legs flying in the air and the drink has landed right on him. It was quite funny, but he went absolutely nuts! He was going on and threatening us and all sorts. Me and Kev were just bemused.

I actually got on well with Chris Byrne; we got a place together actually. I came back to the house one day though and all of his stuff was gone.

We all know Chris’ story though I suppose...

RR: You came in for your league debut against Huddersfield during a difficult period for the club. Peter Reid threw in a lot of young boys after the defeat to Reading, but it worked. What was it that changed?

JC: In the dressing room, nothing changed. It was the same bunch of lads training day in and day out. I don’t know really, to be honest. Maybe it was just freshening things up a little. As young lads, you’ve got a little bit less pressure on. No one really expects much from you, so you can just go out and play your game. Yes, it’s nerve-racking, but you just go out there and you have a good go because you’re young and you love the game of football.

RR: Your partnership with Darren Williams seemed to click from the off - what was it about the partnership that worked?

JC: We were good mates, and we remain good mates to this day. That is always a big help! We defended the old-fashioned way, really. We’d both pick a man and we’d basically man mark them. We were both pretty good man markers.

Daz would 9 times out 10 try and stay with his man all game, as would I. It’s not done so much now, but I’d choose the big one and he’d choose the fast one. That kind of thing. It just worked.

RR: The season ended in bitterly disappointing fashion with an incredible Play Off Final. Firstly, how was it to play in that game and secondly, what did you do to get over it as a team afterwards?

JC: You know what? I’ve never watched the game back. I have no interest in watching that game whatsoever. How do you get over it? I was a young lad, it’s easier.

I had the heartbreak of losing, but I was still on the high of getting into the team - playing at Wembley was a massive, massive achievement for me. It wasn't like Micky Gray, who had a bigger thing to get over. I think it maybe just showed we weren’t ready for the Premiership right then.

We had a room booked on the way back from the game. We still went there, shared some drinks. It wasn’t a celebration you know, but we needed to try get it out of the system. It was a case of "go home, get ready for the new season".

Michael Gray of Sunderland

RR: You started the season afterwards as first choice, but an injury allowed Andy Melville in to the starting eleven and he never seemed to lose his place. How hard was it to watch that dominant season from the side-lines?

JC: You’re always all together as the team - on the field and off the field - but of course you always want to play, as a player. I didn’t want to sit and watch somebody else. It’s a team game - you want your team to win. You want to be the one out there keeping the clean sheets, though. You feel a little bit left out. I want to be on the pitch. But that’s what football is about; I suppose it’s all about how you respond to it.

RR: When Melville left, Steve Bould came in from Arsenal as his replacement. Did you learn much from him?

JC: I don’t think I really played with Steve Bould, not alongside him. I remember he got injured fairly quickly, within the year. Learning from him in training was great, but you learn more from playing alongside those players in games. Sadly for me I didn’t get opportunity to play alongside Steve.

In a way, his misfortune led to my opportunity. I got back into the team after he retired, which was a shame for Steve, but it worked out for me.

RR: You were part of the team that beat Chelsea 4-1 in that same season. What was it like being sat in that dressing room at half time, 4-0 up against a team of world class players?

JC: I felt relieved. But, any professional player knows that at half time it isn’t over. I played for Wolves where we were losing 3-0 at half time and came back to win 4-3!

Emile Heskey and Jody Craddock

RR: Eventually you built up another fabulous partnership, with Emerson Thome, and became one of the first names on the team sheet. At one point we were second in the league at Christmas. How much do you look back on that time and still feel annoyance we couldn’t maintain that?

JC: That partnership with Emerson was a great one. I was simpler. I would go and win the headers and get mucked in, he was the flair centre half that could try something different. He would venture out with the ball.

In terms of not being able to sustain that form, I don’t have the answer for it sadly. It’s a tough one, especially when you’re doing the same thing in training that you did when you were winning the games. It’s like when the top, top teams slip inexplicably, there’s no concrete reason for it. We didn’t change anything; we just didn’t sustain it for some reason or another. That’s football isn’t it?

RR: Sadly, it all fell apart for one reason or another, Peter Reid went and Howard Wilkinson came in. We’ve all heard the stories, but how did you find Wilkinson?

JC: As a person, fine. We had too many meetings though. We had meetings about meetings - we needed to be on the pitch really.

I’m the type of player that responds to a Manager on the touchline - you can see the passion in them. That’s what I respond to. Wilkinson just wanted meetings all the time.

He was a lovely bloke, but as a player you don’t want bloody meetings, you want to be out there on the pitch. There’s teams that respond to that style of management, but it didn’t work for Sunderland at that time I would say.

RR: Come the end of the season, we went down in horrific fashion with just 19 points. Did you want to stay and play for McCarthy and try and get the club back up, or do you feel like you needed a fresh start?

JC: At Wolves, Mick was the best Manager I ever had. He got the best out of me. I spent a few months before I left with Mick at Sunderland too. I always got on with Mick, he was always dead honest and straight up.

I loved the North East, I loved Sunderland and I could have stayed at Sunderland for the rest of my career, quite easily. I loved the football club, the people and the fans but if a club needs to recoup money and a bid is accepted, what do you do? I love the club and would have stayed till the end of my career if it was my choice though, at that time.

RR: Finally - you’re a fully-fledged artist now! How’s that going & where can people find your art?

JC: Yeah, it’s going quite well. It’s a tough world mind. It’s not something I’d recommend, but I love it. It’s not just a job, it’s a serious hobby that I really love doing. I’ve been speaking to a man this week who owns a few galleries, so I’m hoping something will come of that.

If you want to find my art there’s my Facebook page Jody Craddock Art, my twitter handle which is @mrjodycraddock, and there’s the website - www.art-affect.com - too.