ALS Catts Interview

The Real Lee Cattermole

For ALS issue 250 we interviewed Lee Cattermole. That issue is now sold out, so we thought we'd put the interview online for those who haven't already seen it to read...

So, I’m driving over to the academy to meet Catts. There’s a big van blocking my way in with what looks like a very important delivery. What could it be, I think to myself

Maybe it’s some kind of electrical tactics board for Jack Ross, or a massive delivery of hair gel for Charlie Methven. I wait patiently, the goods are delivered and it’s a My Little Pony Unicorn set! Let’s not say who for…

I walk in and wait for Catts in the canteen. I’m looking through my list of questions, the name Paulo di Canio jumps out at me, while I notice that there’s a massive bottle of ketchup on every table. Catts arrives, gets the coffees in and we start the interview…

ALS: You’ve captained every team you’ve played for from being a young lad – was that something that came naturally to you, being a leader?

LC: It definitely comes naturally, I like to speak on the pitch, organise things in training. I don’t think I could play without being vocal, I think it helps every team you play in if you can communicate and maybe stop things early rather than be reactive. I like to take responsibility for everything I do in my life, so I think managers have seen that in me over the course of my career. It’s been the case with most managers, so It’s a quality I must have and I’m recognising that more as I get older, looking at the game, learning about the game – what am I going to be doing in the future. Coaching is an option, but you have to be careful about putting too much pressure on players. The days are gone when you could go around screaming, times have changed, and the dressing rooms are a lot quieter now. I’m aware of that, and I’m open to learning. I’ve had a pretty decent career because I’m open to learning. I never thought I knew better than anyone else, it’s no good just hearing my voice all the time ‘cos there might be a lad in the corner who’s a bit quieter but has something relevant to say. It’s good to get feedback off all the players.

ALS: Central midfielders and defenders seem to make good captains and managers.

LC: Yes, that’s true. I’ve always thought I’d enjoy coaching, but when I had the hip injury, I didn’t know how it was going to pan out, so I thought a lot about that, but after it got sorted, I did keep those thoughts. I love speaking to the coaching staff about football, and I’d be lying if I said wasn’t interested in going that way, but I might play ‘til I’m 36, I might play ‘til I’m 33. I don’t know. I’ve always enjoyed playing, and when you’re injured it’s not nice.

ALS: You’ve had a fair amount of downtime with injuries and such, how do you cope with the frustration not being involved?

LC: You have to find a balance between training and keeping away. The whole season Moyes was here I was in the dressing room before each game, at half time, and after the game. People don’t see things like that. I like to be involved, and when I came back from injury, I’ve always had the mentality that I could affect things. I’d rather be out there and fail than someone else, although that can work against you if you’re too keen. After the six-month injury, away at Leicester, it was really tough coming back, but you set yourselves little targets, breaking it into shorter periods to get through, to meet targets in.

ALS: You’ve worked with lots of managers, so let’s start with Steve Bruce, who was obviously a big influence

LC: Brucey, when I went to Wigan, I just took to him. I loved how genuine he was, he was always on his front foot, I think he was the right guy for Ellis to give the money to, and he’s done well at every club he’s been at. He never backs down, he always wants to make things right, to improve things. I’m still close to his family – he’ll be back into work soon.

ALS: Under Poyet, you played arguably some of the best football of your career…

LC: We had some amazing times. My career at Sunderland has been up and down, and most players change clubs to get out of a down, but that doesn’t always work. The manager didn’t suit them, the club didn’t suit them – I’ve had managers he who didn’t suit me. I’m not going to play my best if I’m not enjoying the feeling, but I’ve always stuck it out and worked through it. That’s the biggest credit I’ll give myself, that I’ve always tried to buy into the manager’s views, so I’ve never spent long periods on the bench. With Gus, we played at Brighton against his team and we couldn’t get the ball back and I remember thinking that I wouldn’t mind playing in that team. People have maybe seen me as a bit hot-headed or lacking a bit of quality – but they underestimate my knowledge of football. I love the game, I watch lots of football, and I talked a lot to Gus about what he wanted. Sometimes I wasn’t good enough to do it and made mistakes, but I knew I was improving. There were lads on the training ground with more ability than me, but they weren’t taking on board what Gus wanted. I was really interested in learning a new style of play, and Sheasy, Wes, and Seb were really interested in what he was doing. We played the top teams and we beat them all, the fans realised we had a game plan. I’d never seen the Stadium of Light fans appreciate football the way they did then, under Gus, but it never lasts forever. I think the turmoil at the highest level at the club cost us managers. I think a lot of clubs get rid of managers too soon, but also change direction. I think with Gus, he’d played at the highest level. You take on board what he said, went out on the pitch to do it, and I thought hey, I like this. I think too many players reckon that the manger doesn’t fancy them and get onto their agent rather than buying into it. They might come out of the other side a better player or they might not, but to not give it a try…

ALS: You’ve always managed to win the new manager over….

LC: Every player has to prove himself, and the managers do things for a reason. Martin gave us loads of days off, but I loved playing under him. I’ve looked after myself best under Martin, ‘cos I wasn’t thinking about when I was going to get a day off and I was raring to go. Every manager’s different, but you need to understand why they’re doing things and that it’s not all about you. Footballer’s can be very worried about themselves and don’t always think about the bigger picture. We had some great times under Gus, and people forget that, always thinking Sunderland had bad times. We stayed in the Prem for years, and we got to the cup final, I think we should have concentrated more on the cups, they’re great, but too often we didn’t take them seriously.

ALS: How long did it take you to work out Paolo di Canio was a bit crazy?

LC: Hmm. People ask this a lot and expect a story or a reason why I wasn’t involved, but there was nothing sinister, my face just didn’t fit. He was trying to do something different, by all accounts he had certain qualities, but… you’ve got to treat men like men, especially now. It’s tough, it didn’t work out for him, but the disappointing thing for me was getting a text in June, after a four-month knee injury and playing through it for two months, asking me, while doing recovery on my own, to find a new club. Is that how you treat people who’ve been here that long? It didn’t help, but you move on. I was desperate to play, but we stayed up that season after he left and arguably the players he brought in weren’t Premier quality, but a great group of players, already here, who pulled the club along for a few years, but then we started letting players go on frees. Look at Seb. He went to the World Cup the year after. His family loved it here and didn’t want to move. There’s been a lot gone on that could have been better organised, but as players we’ve just got to focus on playing. I worry too much about stuff I can’t affect. The bigger picture is the club, so I should just take care of my performances.

ALS: I asked Bally about the period before Reidy came in with seven games to save the season and asked if we’d have stayed up without Reidy. He said he thought we would have. That the players had had a meeting, saying the club was being run badly so we need to pull together. Has this happened much in your time?

LC: Numerous times, with Sheasy, Bardo, players like that, they cared, good characters, and once you see them filtering out of the club you need to replace them with similar characters, and we didn’t. You need strength to play here, because the North East is a hard place to play. I had 16,000 at Wigan ‘cos it’s a rugby town, and while it’s hard here, the highs are brilliant, beating Everton and Chelsea, the fantastic away support, but the wrong characters were brought in.

ALS: It’s been suggested that yourself and O’Shea approached Margaret Byrne during the di Canio days and got him the sack. But no one has ever confirmed this!

LC: Why does my name always get brought up? I wasn’t even captain, or in the team! I’d just come back at West Brom, after I’d nearly moved to Fulham, and that was the first time the crowd turned on him and not the players. It doesn’t matter what the players say, if a manager keeps losing matches. I don’t think there was anything in those meetings that you wouldn’t expect after one point from eight games. There was a lot of honest opinions, but we never ever went behind his back, and everything that was said was said was with him included.

ALS: Do you think we’d be in League One if Big Sam hadn’t taken the England job?

LC: You know I thought the same. I was at by the pool on holiday after we stayed up and I said to the missus we’d have three good years. His teams don’t get into trouble. Ellis asked me about him, so I said let him get on with it, he knows the league, he knows the market, he’s good with his foreign players, and the fans will love him. Then England came along and that was unlucky for us. Moyes knew the league as well, but I felt we went down without a real scrap. I didn’t like that, the club felt different and I don’t think you’ll ever find exact reasons, but it didn’t feel right. Not putting up a fight is wrong. The crowd and the players got frustrated, it wasn’t a nice place to be, then Simon and Chris the next season, they didn’t know which way to turn and the club really needed a big change. Look at us now, it’s much brighter, we’re winning games, which we need to carry on doing otherwise people start looking for those reasons again.

ALS: You’ve played most of your career in the Premier, and you obviously didn’t want to be in the Championship, but now you’re in League One. Are you enjoying it?

LC: I am! I 100% knew I needed to change, especially after my hip operation. I didn’t feel we should have gone down ‘cos we played well enough and it was just individual mistakes that cost us points. I didn’t enjoy any part of being in the Championship, ‘cos everything felt an effort. I came back in the summer and I’ve been honest with the owners and the manager and it looked like it was in everyone’s best interest if I moved on, but it didn’t happen, so I need to play as big a part as I can in getting us up. Then, who knows what the future holds, but I don’t think my attitude can be questioned, but if you’re not enjoying it, it’s hard to give your best. It didn’t feel like a football team or a family, but now, well it’s so much better. And moving clubs can be a long process, it didn’t happen, so I’ve got to get back playing and enjoying it, which we are now, and not just the players, it’s the manager, the backroom staff, the whole club. The importance of winning games is everything.

ALS: You car share with George Honeyman, who cites you as a big influence, but now he’s captain, who picks the music on the way to work?

LC: Hahaha! George is definitely on the music. I love music, and what it does, but I can’t name any songs or artists, but George knows his stuff, he goes to little gigs, loves the up and coming bands. He is what he is, George, he doesn’t use any social media to gain things, he’s 100% honest every day. He’s the life and soul, we as players love having him in the team, and that’s why he’s captain. It’s a huge honour for him, he’s a clever lad as well. George couldn’t have come in at a worse time, really, with the way things were going, but the fans are now seeing what he’s made of. I like the way football divides opinion, you might like something that I don’t, but the amount of work George puts in to create space and get others on the ball. I love having him in my team. He’s always on the move, and his output is huge. He’s a good lad.

ALS: Do you get special shorts made so that you can pull them up extra high?

LC: Haha! You know what it is? I’ve always done it, and when I see others tuck their shirts in I think they look proper and smart, but within five minutes they’ve pulled them out. There’s no point asking Cookie the kitman for anything special, ‘cos you wouldn’t get it!

ALS: So are you enjoying working with Jack Ross?

LC: I’ve had a great relationship with Jack Ross, constantly chatting about the game and he’s understanding. He’s working hard to understand the game better, first out setting up training, making sure the dressing room is left tidy, he sets standards, and they’re qualities that I like. He speaks with authority without shouting, and I think playing under him will improve you as a footballer and a person. I think he’ll go on to big things, and hopefully with us. He wants your opinions, he wants feedback and to hear how we can improve. His staff are great at well, what he’s brought to the club is brilliant. This is a tough job, and the pre-season didn’t go well, but he gradually built the squad, and what we have to understand is that you don’t have to be pretty to win games. We come on strong late in games, our quality eventually comes through, stay in the game, be aggressive and play in their half, and we’ll get there.

ALS: Finally, in and ideal world, would you like to end your career at Sunderland having got us back in the Premier League?

LC: You know what? That would be a dream, amazing. To stay here and get back to the Prem would be amazing, because of the way it went after Sam left and my injuries. I remember coming in after we stayed up against Everton and sat by myself and the emotions were overwhelming… even big Younas (Kaboul) was crying his eyes out. That killed me, I thought I couldn’t do that again. But now the feeling around the place is good again, it’s a positive place to be. I was a little bit frustrated with the Netflix documentary coming out now, because we’re having to re-live the past and the negativity and we’re going so well now. The hardest thing is to keep looking forward. I feel so comfortable that the club’s in good order that I can do my job better on the pitch. Listen, I’ve loved playing for Sunderland, although some people might give me stick, but some are singing my name every week. I always put myself in the firing line, never shirked a game. I might have a bad game, but it’s not through lack of effort. The fans are great, so let’s reward them by getting back up there. You need that togetherness, that team – look at McGeady, all those caps, but he couldn’t do it without the rest of the team. If we don’t pull together, we’ll get beat up on the pitch because this is a tough and physical league and the opposition have been together for years and are fighting for each other. They’re all on short one year contacts in League One, they’re fighting to pay their mortgages, they’re working really hard so we have to match that and if we do we’ll be ok.