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On making the move to Sunderland...
I spoke to Martin O’Neill a few times and he had some great ideas. I know Sunderland were struggling but for the short time I worked with him I thought he was a really good manager.
I didn’t have thoughts about signing for them [Sunderland], it was back home which was a massive part for me. It’s a shame it didn’t work out, I would’ve loved for it to have went way better than it did. That’s part and parcel of football, I’ll not be the only one to go through that sort of spell.
On how difficult his time was here...
It was so tough as well, a lot of people don’t realise. Martin O’Neill got sacked after 4 or 5 weeks. Then there were 3 other managers that came in. [Gus] Poyet, [Dick] Advocaat and obviously [Paolo] Di Canio come in.
Every one of them straight away put me with the reserves and sort of brushed me aside. So I end up training hard and doing well and they all end up putting me back in the team down to my hard work. But it was difficult in terms of being passed around, I was on loan again. It just turned out to be a disaster really.
On missing the first day of training...
Yeah, I missed the first day because I slept in. I think we were somewhere in London and 4 or 5 of us got a taxi back to Sunderland. It was my first training day - I’d already been in the matchday squad on the Saturday.
The lads had been in and we done some mad runs across the box and I thought ‘oh my god, how am I going to get through this?’. So I probably didn’t start the move off to well really.
On Di Canio’s first day in charge I’d just got out of a cell, that was just a minor one that one.
On the fans...
I had no doubt about it the fans hated me. I think there was an interview I done when I was at Watford as a young lad and I said I’d rather play for Gateshead than Sunderland in a match-day programme. So as I’m going to sign for Sunderland, someone has found this programme from 2009, or whenever it was, and dug it out and highlighted it. The next thing it was all over the Sunderland newspapers.
I was fighting a losing battle. The game before I moved was Sunderland Vs. Swansea, it was on Sky and the cameras were all over me. I was warming up and the cameras were on me constant as there was obviously news of the interest and stuff. [Michael] Laudrup said ‘I won’t put you on, as it’s the last day of the window but I’ll put you in the squad.’ 10 minutes to go he puts me on and the full Stadium erupts into boo’s and I’m thinking ‘wow - I could be signing here tomorrow.’ The noise was deafening. Coming out of the stadium I was getting everything and I was thinking ‘I’m flying back up here tomorrow.’
After 6 or 7 games it started to affect me massively. I couldn’t go anywhere, I couldn’t go for food - it was constant abuse. There were punters having a go at me in my local pub. After my contract had finished at Sunderland I contemplated retiring there and then. It was a tough point. I didn’t want to go to Blackburn on loan, I completely lost interest in football. It eased off [the abuse] when I went on loan to Middlesbrough but the deal fell through and I went back to Sunderland and it started again. So I was going on loan and getting away from it, but I would always end up back at Sunderland somehow.
The big thing for me was what was pulled out the Watford programme. I was 22 or 23 year old lad having a laugh with the Watford programme editor and the next thing it’s all blown up. I did get a lot of stick at times.
The fans were patient with me to start with but then after 6 or 7 games it ran out very quickly and I was waiting back after games for the punters to go. Sometimes I was waiting for an hour to an hour and a half with the family in the player's lounge hoping for more fans to go.
After 3 and a half years I was completely shattered of it all. I like to go out and socialise but I wasn’t even going to my local pub because 3 weeks before someone had said something. I wouldn’t go out for food, I would just eat in the house. It all stopped because of the abuse I was getting, I would rather stay in the house. It was that ferocious at times I was ready to call it a day. I was in a real low.
On Di Canio...
He was the biggest whopper I have ever seen! I don’t think there was anyone at Sunderland who liked him and I would be very surprised if someone came out and said that they do… and if they do, I think they’re lying. He was dismissive from day one. I think Connor Wickham missed a header and Paolo was saying ‘I will fight you.’ He could be sound one day and a helmet the next. By the end of it, they called a meeting with everyone, they rang the players up saying what should we do and everyone said sack him.
There was a big meeting - I think I was on loan again at this point - but after West Brom away he started going through a few of the lads and Carlos Cuellar stood up and called him a fucking prick. ‘Any other manager I would break my leg [for] but for you, I would jump out of a tackle.’ And then it was a conveyor belt of the lads going through him apparently. Everyone got a phone call the next day and that was him gone.
He had us in I think 38/39 days straight. We beat Newcastle away 3-0 and he had us in the next day doing bike sessions when we didn’t have a game until the next week. We beat Everton, we had 2 good results and there was still no days off. And the lads that didn’t play were doing pre-season sessions, it was obscene. The first day he came in we done 30 box to boxes and I’d just got out of a cell 40 minutes before. In the meeting he’s giving some passionate speech, Jonno’s asleep and I’m sat thinking ‘I’m dying here’. After training I ran back in and went sick everywhere.
He didn’t know I’d been locked up. I was messing around with some taxi driver in Newcastle saying I was staying at one hotel, I had him driving round the quayside and the next thing I knew, he pulled up alongside a police car. Drunk and disorderly, straight in.
Di Canio said that he was going home to stick a banana up his arse. He was so off the cuff.
On Gus Poyet...
I always believed I would work my way back in after my loan at Wolves. After my second or third session, Poyet made a passing joke to Fletch saying ‘what’s happened to your mate?’ and I said ‘that’s what happens when you play games’ - and the next week I was back in the squad.
On the Everton goal...
Jordi Gomez took a short and I’ve tried to move out the way and it’s spun in off my calf and I celebrated. Knee slide the lot. We stopped up and the next season I was out the squad again.
On returning for a second time...
I was going back home. It was never about money, the salary cap had come in. I was probably the lowest paid in the squad, it was about trying to get that squad out of the division basically. Phil Parkinson come to my house several times, he was begging me to sign. I’d play one game and then be out the squad for three games and there was never a run where I could put the consistency together. There were no fans so I wasn’t getting that noise, I could just walk out the ground. After a few month, I knew I was coming to the end. Lee Johnson had come in and he had a conversation with me and he said he wanted to go down the younger route and I was fine with it. That was it, playing career done.
As soon as I met Phil Parkinson I knew I was up for going back.
I met him at Wetherby when he was Bolton manager and he was offering good money and last minute I pulled the plug and went to Blackburn instead, so I was surprised when he picked up the phone and asked me to come back to Sunderland. He did think I would do a job for him, but as soon as Charlie [Wyke] scored that first goal he went on a mad run. It was great for him to score them goals because he had dogs abuse. I know he’s moved to Wigan now but I was hoping he’d get a move to the Championship.
I could imagine if Sunderland fans are listening to this they’d say ‘I’m so shit’ but a Blackburn fan would say I’m unbelievable - he stayed with us when we got relegated. It’s mad how football works.