What made Lee Barry Cattermole, for me, such a special Sunderland player?
Is it because wor young’un always calls me “the poor man’s Catts” whenever I liken my own silky game to Jim Baxter or Kevin Arnott, as I am apt to do with a pint or two of the black stuff in me? Well, I confess, it probably might have a bit to do with it.
But let me pick out a few things that I think made him so special.
Catts has played 12 seasons in the premiership for three different “unfashionable” clubs. He has also played in three different divisions for Sunderland amassing 258 appearances in all competitions, the bulk of these in the premiership. That is service by anyone’s description. He captained us well from 2010 to 2013, though captaincy was not new to him - he is still the youngest player at 18 years old to captain ‘Boro.
I loved watching him and Lorik Cana play together at the heart of our midfield, both of them never short of a tackle (or a booking) but both better on the ball than given credit. Catts’ performance in Poyet’s team were for me some of his best in a Sunderland shirt (irrespective of his alleged difficulties with the coach). He was, in his typically unfussy way, a huge part of the miracle of 2014.
I did like his “bad boy” image on the pitch (arguably deserved with 77 yellow and 8 red cards throughout his career) and likened him to a silent assassin; the “Ginger Jack” tackle could almost sum up his Sunderland career
However, I always thought there was more to his game than this; his ability to break up play and invariably find his own man with a simple pass was a great strength, and he had a good knack at knowing when to press the game and a better range of passing than ever given credit for.
For many seasons, he gave us 90 minutes on the pitch and then some, even during those periods when quite a few others were not doing the same. But I’m sure I was not the only one who noticed this ability faltering from around 2015/16; with some even claiming his “legs had gone” or that his “heart was not in it”!
He disclosed before the 2019 Play Off final that he had probably played two seasons where he should not have been on the pitch, and had been affected for 3 or 4 seasons by a troublesome hip injury. In typical Catts fashion, his disclosure was not about feeling sorry for himself, but about the horrible feeling of letting his team mates down - particularly in the last 20 minutes of games as the pain intensified.
I am also going to hold up his perennial loser tag that some unkindly apply. He was part of the England U21 team (16 caps) that were runners up in the 2009 European Championships. He was part of the ‘Boro team that was runners up in the UEFA Cup 2006. He was runner up again with Sunderland in the 2014 League Cup as well as the 2019 EFL Trophy and Play Off tournaments. His team mates though from those games will all tell you, they did not lose because of Lee Barry Cattermole’s lack of effort or contribution.
In 2014 he was awarded the NE Football Writer’s Player of the Year award. It was richly deserved, he was on fire and without doubt the most consistent player in the NE at the time.
His premiership wage was undoubtedly a factor in his departure from Sunderland in 2019. I was sorry to see him go, but enjoyed the fact he was looking fit and like he was enjoying himself despite the disappointing end to the 2018/19 season.
For me, Lee Cattermole was a special Sunderland player and deserves his place in our annals, as well as success in his coaching future. I, for one, would be glad to see him back in this guise.
Good luck Lee, my door is always open if you are in my neck of the woods and I am proud to be called “the poor man’s Catts”.