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Passion, Pride & Loyalty: Why Sunderland are fortunate to have Lee Cattermole & Grant Leadbitter

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“I can’t think of a more fitting way of ending this season than with these two northern lads, one from Fencehouses, the other from Stockton, picking up the League One Play-Off Final trophy” says Chris Wynn.

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With a combined total of 18 years at Sunderland for Lee Cattermole and Grant Leadbitter, this season has meant as much to them as the most ardent Sunderland supporter.

Almost ten years ago they were both Sunderland players together for the first time.

It all started when a 21-year-old Lee Cattermole signed on the dotted line in a deal worth around £6 million from Wigan Athletic on the 12th August.

They would, however, only be united as Sunderland players until the 1st September 2009, when Ipswich Town offered around £2.6 million for a 23-year-old Grant Leadbitter to take him to East Anglia, after making well over 100 appearances for Sunderland.

Ten years later, they have reunited in one of our darkest hours as we aim to get out of the third tier of English football for only the second time in our history.

With all of the changes happening at the club on and off the field this season, it’s a reassuring thought to know these two have an influence in the dressing room regardless of whether they’re selected in the starting line-up.

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It would be fair to say Lee Cattermole has had his moments with Sunderland fans, especially over the last couple of years, but surely no-one can argue with the way he’s rolled his sleeves up, pulled his shorts up to his neck, and got stuck in this season.

Thirty-three appearances so far this season - and assuming he starts the play-off the final, that should equal his best return for starting appearances in his ten years at the club.

Injuries have taken their toll, but some of his performances this season combined with the best goal return in a Sunderland shirt by far suggests calls that he was perhaps “finished” were wide of the mark.

We may have missed out on automatic promotion late in the day, but the role on and off the field that Lee Cattermole has played in turning the club around, in what is arguably the most important of the clubs history to date, cannot be underestimated.

Then there is the local lad returning to his boyhood club having originally joined as a six-year-old back in 1992 - Grant Leadbitter would go on to make his first team debut under Roy Keane eleven years later.

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It’s like plucking one of the most passionate supporters from the Roker End before a game, magically making him fit, bestowing the skills of a professional footballer, sticking a red and white shirt on him and telling him to get stuck in.

He bleeds red and white, and like so many of us it was the way he was raised.

I’m not sure many of us could imagine playing football every other week on the field where their father’s ashes are scattered, nor could most imagine playing through the pain and grief of losing their mother less than 24 hours before a high pressure winner-takes-all semi-final.

Grant Leadbitter has, and is, living through that.

There is a bond between Grant Leadbitter and Sunderland Association Football Club that goes way beyond a standard player/club relationship.

For us as fans, it’s reassuring to know someone is in the ranks who wants it as much as we do. Some players say it, and to be fair a few might think they mean it, but Leadbitter doesn’t have to say it - we all know how much he wants this.

As a duo they played a vital part in what was Sunderland’s most professional, controlled performance on a football pitch as we’ve seen for many years at Fratton Park in the second leg of the semi-final.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

They were almost faultless, and considering the backdrop of Grant Leadbitter’s loss ahead of the game, the performances were astonishing.

Seeing the embrace between the pair on the pitch after the game made me proud that they were Sunderland players.

They have each other’s backs, and after you peel back the status of celebrity sportsmen and everything that comes with that, they are simply two young men who have pressures outside of football like we all do. It’s easy to forget that fact and yet professionally they give everything for the club.

I wouldn’t be surprised as time goes on that these two players will be talked about when discussing future players commitment and getting the passion of the fans out there on the pitch.

On an off day we might not think it, but we’ll miss them and their type long after they’re not out there representing us.

Players like these two do not come along very often. Players come and go, and very few get it, most don’t, and whatever their faults technically we have two players where commitment isn’t a question mark.

I can’t think of a more fitting way of ending this season than with these two northern lads, one from Fencehouses, the other from Stockton, picking up the League One Play-Off Final trophy and taking us back to the Championship.

It’s gone beyond Roy of the Rovers or Hollywood.

This is Sunderland... someone should really put this on the TV.