In August 2015 I attended Sunderland’s home game against Norwich in the Premier League. Whilst there are many to choose from, the fixture stands out amongst the worst I have witnessed in recent years as Dick Advocaat’s side were mauled by a newly promoted side on their home turf racing into a 3-0 lead by the hour mark.
Yet in that disastrous showing, there was somewhat of a glimmer of hope. With nothing left to lose, the manager fielded a 21-year-old Duncan Watmore and offered him his league debut. Signed from Altrincham two years previously, the young player had forced his way diligently into the first team. Entering the pitch, he single handedly performed better than any other player had for the entire game, forcing his way forwards and scoring a moral boosting consolation near the end.
The performance quickly cemented Duncan’s place in the first team, penning a new contract that November and going on to score 3 goals in 23 appearances. His work ethic and professional attitude were particularly impressive, given at the same time he had not actually banked everything on being a professional footballer, but was simultaneously studying for a University degree in Economics and Business management at the same time, transferring from Manchester to Newcastle University.
He graduated with first class honours too, illustrating at the same time a dual commitment to hard work, graft and excellence on and off the pitch. He was a young man with a plan, even his sporting career didn’t go well for him.
It was only logical we would have high hopes for him. However, circumstances beyond his control began to bite. Duncan would tragically turn out to be one of those players whom despite showing so much talent and so much promise, his career would be plagued by persistent and lingering injuries.
After his successful stint in 2015-2016, the following December he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury. When we got relegated the first time and hoped he would play a part in our revival as a hungry and ambitious player in the championship, he suffered another major injury and was ruled for the season yet again mustering only 11 appearances. Then further down in League One, it happened a third time in March 2018. The pattern was never ending, he’d play a few games, suffer a major injury and that would be it.
Therefore, it is not a surprise that the club has decided not to renew his contract, with him being permanently unable to secure fitness and consistency.
Yet on his on terms, we know this is really not Duncan’s personal fault, as on a professional, attitude and ethical level, there were likely few players who shown as much commitment to their careers as Watmore did.
In an era plagued by “p*ss taking” (from both the players and owners alike) disdainful conduct and attitude problems, Duncan was a modest, dedicated and humble player who really wanted to give it his all, but had a very unlucky and frustrating set of circumstances.
Having prepared shrewdly for the possible outcome that he might not make it as a professional footballer, there is little question that moving on from Sunderland, Watmore deserves and will achieve greater success in life.
If he is not willing to give the sport one more try, then he is armed with his hard fought for degree and being the son of a former senior civil servant and FA chief executive, he will have a world at his fingertips.
If he can fight his way from non-league football into what was the first team of a Premier League club and dedicate himself to studies all at once, then injuries do not diminish his reputation as a highly reliable individual. Best of luck for the future Duncan, thank you for your service, and we wish you success in whatever path you choose going forwards.