MOMENTS after Danny Graham’s last visit to the Stadium of Light, he could easily have had a change of heart over a wish to join Sunderland.
For those that know all about his path to become a Premier League footballer, winning over the supporters who vocally displayed their anger at the Gateshead-born striker’s imminent arrival on his last appearance for Swansea City was merely the latest battle he had on his hands.
Just ten years ago Graham slotted in to the Middlesbrough academy as a second-year scholar, alongside the likes of Adam Johnson and David Wheater who had been under Dave Parnaby’s reputable coaching set-up for a number of years.
Before Boro’s chief scout Ron Bone had plucked him from Chester-le-Street juniors a little more than a year after leaving school, he was combining his day job as a window-fitter with playing football on a Saturday and Sunday locally.
A couple of years later he was making his Premier League debut at Old Trafford and then at the age of 21 he had to accept his dream of making it in the top-flight at Middlesbrough had gone when Gareth Southgate released him.
Undeterred he stayed in professional football, albeit in League One with Carlisle United. Unbeknown to him, Graham’s path to the top had already started once more.
The goals flowed, a move to Watford soon followed, where more goals flowed and then eighteen months ago he was back on the Premier League stage after completing a £3.5m move to Swansea, who made him their record signing.
No wonder, when he received the verbal abuse he received from some fans before his deadline day switch to Sunderland last week, Graham remained focused and confident of making the most of his chance to return to his native region as a top-flight goalscorer.
“Nothing does faze me to be honest,” said Graham, ahead of his Sunderland home debut today when Arsenal come to Wearside. “I've had massive highs in the game, I've had massive lows. I've had a lot of abuse and a lot of doubters throughout, going through the leagues, will he do it at the Championship? Will he do it at League One? When I got my chance at the Premier League, will he do it there?”
He added: “I would not change anything that I have been through. My football journey has been up and it has been down and it has certainly been around.”
Graham’s youth was spent playing for Ayton Cherries in Washington, another team from the same district, Dunlop, before finishing off with Felling Magpies and Leam Rangers ahead of joining Chester-le-Street. “I had more transfers then than I have now,” he Graham.
And when he was window-fitting for a Team Valley company he was earning more money than when he started out at Middlesbrough cleaning the boots of Ugo Ehiogu.
Graham said: “I did it for eight months. It was good. I kept getting all the screws wrong. I only got paid coppers. The worst part was getting up at half seven and waiting on the corner in the freezing cold to get picked up.
“It was all about being a professional and I took that with me when I went to Middlesbrough. We did boots and had to clean the balls too. I enjoyed it. Leaving work and then I was cleaning an England international's boots. From cleaning windows to boots!”
When Middlesbrough made a last-ditch attempt to steal Graham from under the noses of Sunderland last week, Graham was flattered but had no intention of dropping back down to the Championship again.
Graham said: "My agent spoke to Tony (Mowbray). It's not as if we ignored the interest from Middlesbrough. The lure of the Premier League is too big. The lure of the size of this football club was too big to turn down. I said I hope Middlesbrough do well and deep down I really hope they come up.”
Not only did he turn down a chance to return to Middlesbrough, he also opted against the chance to stay at Swansea where he would have had a Capital One Cup final this month to focus on.
“I could have been at Wembley, yes,” said Graham . “But would I have played? I might have been at Wembley and just sat on the bench. I have moved on from that now and I wish them all the best.”
Now he is at Sunderland he is only intending to deliver. He made no attempt to disguise that he once said he would stay clear of Sunderland if his boyhood club, Newcastle, never existed.
But he said: “In the back of my mind I knew I was going to get the abuse I got (when he appeared as a substitute for Swansea at Sunderland days before his move). It's fine. I totally understand that. You get it everywhere you go anyway.
"There was nothing to it (the comments to a Watford fanzine), but I'm not going to hide from it as well, you know what I mean. Yeah, the comments were made, they come out, whatever.
“As footballers there's a lot worse comes out about other people. For me now it is about putting that to bed, coming in the door, showing how committed I am to the club. Score a few goals and I'm sure that will all be forgotten and we can move on."
Over the years there have been plenty Newcastle supporters to have pulled on the red and white shirt of Sunderland. Graham, sitting confidently and honestly chatting about his roots, has worked hard to get where he is in his career, so is not intending to let his Geordie background come in the way of success.
“I'm not the first Newcastle fan to play for this football club, and people have come here and had successful times,” said Graham. “I want to do as well as I can here. As a forward I want to score as many goals and the fans will see my commitment as soon as I get time on the pitch.
"In terms of what's gone on, I play in the ideal position to create a relationship with the fans. The reception I got at Reading showed a lot have put that to bed. For me that's great and for them I'm sure that's great as well. They will see my commitment on the park over the next few weeks. That will be the end of that story."