Skipper Grant Leadbitter has revealed why he has been out for so long in a lengthy Instagram post, where he thanked Sunderland fans for their support during a difficult time for him but says he cannot wait to get back to playing competitive football this upcoming season.

“This is a message to say thank you after some of the most difficult days and months of my life. First of all I’d like to say how great it has felt being back on the training pitch and playing football in recent weeks. The minutes I have had in the friendlies so far I have enjoyed and I’m looking forward to the new season. Those were the first games I have played since the Christmas period, and I’ve never really explained the reasons why. Grief is one of the hardest things we all have to cope with, so when I lost my mam in May 2019 I tried to deal with that in the same way as when I lost my dad 11 years earlier at such a young age, by concentrating on my football career day in and day out. This time I couldn’t focus each day. It was tough, really tough and I had to be honest with myself and the people around me. The grief of losing both of my parents eventually caught up with me in the second half of last year. I was only 33 and it’s still incredibly hard to deal with and it’s been a slow process, but I’ve made gradual progress and I’m looking to continue to do so. Anyone who has been through similar will understand how hard it can be. My two sisters, my family and me were all really touched by the messages I received from Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Ipswich supporters during that time. In fact the support I have had from football fans across the country has been brilliant and something I will never forget, as have the messages from former team-mates and staff I’ve worked with. If anyone else is struggling to deal with problems such as grief on a personal level, it’s important to talk and stick with it. I have never felt comfortable commenting on my situation, I’ve chosen now so I can look forward to the new season ahead by explaining the honest reason why I needed a break. I’ve enjoyed pre-season and I’m looking forward to having the fans back in the stadium soon.”