On Wearside, we haven’t been blessed with an abundance of talented players over the years. We’ve certainly seen far more Phil Barsdleys than Yann M’Vila’s. But of course, there’s nothing wrong with Phil Bardsleys, they give you consistency on the pitch, hard work and if they’re lucky become cult heroes for their efforts. As Sunderland fans, the one thing we demand from a team is commitment. It’s a minimum requirement to get the crowd onside, so with that in mind I’ve created a grafter’s 11. Some in this side are better than others, but one thing you would be guaranteed from these lads is 100% effort every week.As a relative young-un, I only started going to matches in 2003 aged seven, so my team only features players from that year onwards.
GK: Darren Ward
It’s hard to label someone a grafter when they play in goal, so here I’ve gone for the 6 or 7/10 ever reliable Darren Ward. The Welsh shot stopper arrived from Norwich with little fanfare having made just one appearance for the Canaries in two years. But Ward rarely let the lads down and slots in perfectly to this team of dependable, likable players. He became something of a crowd favourite during the 2006/07 promotion season under Roy Keane, making many impressive saves throughout the campaign and was a steadying influence on the back four.
RB: Phil Bardsley
Ah Bardo, the lad I used to personify what it means to be a grafter and he has all the makings of a cult hero. A steady, solid player, always gave his all for the club, got stuck in, scored the odd screamer and gave us that night at Old Trafford. He also showed tremendous character to win the supporters back around after being left out of the team by Di Canio and ill-advised social media posts.
CB: John O’Shea
Many people are critical of the Irish defender and I am by no means his biggest fan, but it is no coincidence that manager after manager has reverted back to him after initially dropping him for a new signing. The skipper has shown good leadership qualities throughout his time at the club, always given 100% and been a great servant to SAFC. He further endeared himself to Sunderland fans after the look of sheer horror on his face after Tim Sherwood saluted Adeybayor during a 5-1 defeat at Spurs.
They tried to get the ball past Nyron but he said non, no, no! Nosworthy was another one who wasn’t the best technical player, but he always gave 100% every week and clearly loved the club. Nyron is a bit out of place in this team in that he wasn’t what you would call consistent, reliable or steady. But he grafted his nuts off and loved giving it the biggun after a goal. Fist Pumping after all is a near essential to get into this side. His popularity was such that he couldn’t do his weekly shop at Morisons without fans singing his song at him.Like Ward, Nosworthy was part of the 06/07 promotion winning season and with his mazy dribbling, putting the ball out of play from the half way line and giving us his all on a weekly basis, so you can’t help but love the bloke.
LB: Danny Collins
Our Brazilian full back, how he was never capped is beyond me. Collins was signed for relative peanuts by Mic Mac and went on to become something of a cult hero. He wasn’t the best technically but he certainly couldn’t be faulted on his work rate or effort in a Sunderland shirt and won the Supporters Player of The Season In both 2007-08 and 08-09. Danny also allegedly pinned Michael Chopra against the wall in the tunnel after many felt Chopra had bottled a chance against the Mags. You just can’t fail to love the lad after hearing that, can you?His mates also all wore ALS, For Brazil He Should Play, Danny Collins, t shirts on his stag weekend, which DC bought. What’s not to like?
CM: Darren Williams (Captain)
A slightly controversial choice as captain, but this man personifies what this Sunderland team is all about. Played in just about every position for the lads, never let anybody down and was a great servant over a number of years. He also without fail, rain or shine, applauded the fans at the end of the game. Pure captain material.The highlight of his career was probably when he scored the winning goal for Sunderland at Middlesbrough, his hometown club, in 1997, a game he only played into man mark Juninho…who ended up not paying. Accidental masterstroke from Reidy.
CM: Lee Cattermole
Shorts up to his nipples, shirt tucked in, always wears short sleeves. You’ll do for me bonny lad. Throwing himself into tackles all over the pitch, driving team mates on snarling his way through games, the man lives and breathes Sunderland. The thing I will always love about Lee Cattermole is his insistence on snapping a Newcastle player within the opening five minutes of every derby a well as keying Mag’s cars. Catts may have his fair share of critics but he is an absolute staple of a team like this.
CM: Lorik Cana
Lorilk Cana-hard as fuck! For the first six months of his time at Sunderland he was formidable in the centre of midfield, between him and Lee Cattermole no one got through alive. Cana did have a bit of quality, but ultimately, he was a grafter and will always be fondly remembered on Wearside for tough tackling and his long luscious locks.
No room for creative wing forwards in this team. A narrow 4-3-3 with long balls up to the big men and big Kev Kyle is perfect for the role. Kyle shoed a never say die attitude throughout his time at the club and actually scored some pretty good goals in his time at the club. It’s easy to forget that Kyle had an excellent 03-04 season before injuries severely hampered his career. Away from football Big Kev entered the BDO Scottish Open darts tournament in 2016, reaching the last 256. He beat Lakeside semi-finalist Richard Veenstra, who was ninth seed in the tournament, on the way. Also, renowned for scalding his private parts after spilling a pan of boiling water on to his lap and having a game of footy with the ALS lads during pre season in America.
CF: Danny Graham
Was initially extremely unpopular amongst Sunderland fans due to comments he’d made about the lads in a Newcastle fanzine as a young player. But despite only scoring one goal, which literally came off his arse against Everton he won the fans round to an extent with his work rate.
CF: James Vaughan
A bit of a cheat but I wanted to continue the theme of work horse centre forwards who will be an ariel threat. I would love to be proven wrong, but Vaughan looks very much in the mould of a Danny Graham who will give his all, but rarely looks like scoring. He seems a genuine lad with great work rate, and has always been right in amongst the celebrations when the lads score. Hopefully he will prove to be more than a grafter though and get a few goals under his belt.