Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole will go head-to-head with one of his oldest friends in football after being pitched into FA Cup battle with former club Middlesbrough.
The 23-year-old Teessider made his name as a teenager with the club he supported as a boy, and was thrilled that the fourth round sees Boro make the short trip to the Stadium of Light.
There will be no prouder man on Wearside on Sunday when the midfielder leads his team out wearing the captain’s armband, and the fact that he will do so alongside Matthew Bates will enhance the experience.
Cattermole said: “Me and Matty have been friends for a long time.
“His brother Darren was in goal for Marton, the team I played for as a kid, so we have always been close as families– I think his mam went to school with my mam.
“It’s great to see Matty doing well. He has had some tough injuries and some tough times and has come back, and that shows the type of lad he is. Now he is captaining the team and it will be nice to stand alongside him in the tunnel, and then catch up after the game.”
Cattermole broke into the Boro side under former boss Steve McClaren, making his full debut as a 17 year-old in a 2-2 derby draw at Newcastle in January 2006.
His initial impact was such that by the end of that same season he came off the bench to play a cameo role in the UEFA Cup final, which the Teessiders lost 4-0 to Seville in Eindhoven. Boro had earlier reached the FA Cup semi-final, which they lost 1-0 to West Ham at Villa Park, to hand Cattermole a remarkable start to his senior career.
Recalling an unforgettable night in Holland, he said: “Leading up to the game, he [McClaren} had been resting [Gareth] Southgate, Jimmy Floyd [Hasselbaink]...
“He had wrapped them all up in cotton wool for a couple of weeks leading up to it, and Batesy and me were playing quite a lot, so we thought we were going to have a chance of playing. Then he brought them all back in and we sat on the bench. He brought me on when I think we were 3-0 down and, at the time, I felt I should have started the game, me just being stupid and young.”
That final was McClaren’s last game in charge as he then headed off to take over the England job, and Cattermole was to follow him out of the exit door two years later when then Wigan boss Steve Bruce, who would later spend £6m to take him to Sunderland, handed over £3.5m for his services.
With Boro having to cut costs, he was one of a procession of graduates from the club’s renowned Academy to leave with Stewart Downing, Adam Johnson and David Wheater having followed in the wake of the club’s relegation at the end of the 2008-09 season.
Cattermole said: “From being in the UEFA Cup final to getting relegated within three seasons, and the names which seemed to leave the club, everything just changed.”
He added: “In an ideal world, I would love to see them come back up. They seem to have definitely turned the corner.”