LEE CATTERMOLE has never had the unwanted experience of having to go through relegation, but he knows exactly what the cost of dropping out of the Premier League could be ahead of a crucial final eight days for Sunderland because of his Teesside roots.
Having started out at Middlesbrough’s academy and been a boyhood fan of the club he was introduced to by his family, he was saddened by their relegation to the Championship in 2009. Boro’s struggles to return to the top-flight have been highlighted by regular changes of manager and he hears of the frustrations felt by his father and friends on a regular basis.
For Cattermole, though, he has never had to suffer such a fate as a player, despite encountering plenty of battles to stay in the top-flight during his one season at Wigan Athletic under Steve Bruce and the years which have gone by since at Sunderland.
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He had hoped this season would be different. Ultimately, though, that is exactly what he has had to go through once more and he is determined to make sure 2014 is not the year that relegation arrives on his footballing CV.
“I know what is at stake, how important it is to keep the club up,” said Stockton-born Cattermole. “You look at what has happened at Middlesbrough for instance ... I would really struggle to deal with going down. I know the consequences of it.
“This is a huge club and a big city. Football is what the city lives for. If we go down a lot of people will lose their jobs. Everything goes down, the attendances, the kids won't enjoy their football as much and look forward to games as much.
“Everyone wants to see the big names coming here. I just know from my relationship with Boro how my cousins and family talk about football. It is not the same as the people here do. There is not the buzz around if you go down.
“We have got an opportunity now to survive this. It would be massive. The lads realise those consequences. We have given ourselves a great opportunity which even a lot of lads in the dressing room didn't think we would have. Everyone on the outside thought we were dead and buried. We have got a chance none to finish it off.”
Over the years Cattermole has built up a reputation on and off the pitch for being a “hot head”, unfairly he would argue. As he reflects on the events of the last nine months, a lot of maturity shines through when he talks about how he has dealt with things.
Only last summer he was discarded by Paolo Di Canio, then recalled after a dreadful start to the season and had to try to perform for a volatile manager who had been critical of him publicly and privately.
He was part of a dressing room rebellion against Di Canio before proving to be a key component of the initial revival under Gustavo Poyet. The arrival of Liam Bridcutt almost saw him join Stoke City on deadline day in January, only for the deal to breakdown at the last minute.
What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but Cattermole has learned a lot from what he has been through. “I have grown up a lot,” said Cattermole. “This season has been a great learning curve in all areas from making mistakes and giving goals away, being sent off, playing in a cup final, so many big moments.
“I take a lot of experience from it and hopefully I will improve. The start of the season - which will never come out - was the hardest time of my career. I came into work to do everything right and give them no excuses to fine me.
“I kept my head down and thought the only way anything gets better, or you improve any situation, is by staying positive, keep working hard. I knew I had a job to do. I know how important I can be to this team. Football turns so quickly, whether playing well or badly. You have to keep positive.”
After losing seven games from eight in the league, Sunderland looked dead and buried until stunning the country by picking up a point at Manchester City and then defeating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. That gave them the confidence to smash four beyond Cardiff City at the Stadium of Light last Sunday.
“There have been times when you thought: have we got enough to stay up?” said Cattermole. “The lads have answered all the questions and shown how committed they are in the last month.”
Yet a failure to complete the job in the remaining games at Manchester United tomorrow or the two home dates with West Brom or Swansea could still see the Black Cats go down.
Despite a summer of huge change in personnel ahead regardless of the division they are in, Cattermole believes the squad has shown just how much keeping Sunderland in the Premier League means to the players.
“Winning at Old Trafford would sum up a crazy season but it probably wouldn't shock anyone,” said Cattermole. “We will have a game plan and the manager sets us up great against the big teams. We will be hard to beat and go there with confidence.
“With the way the lads are now there is too much to let slip and we really need to dig in this last week of the season and grind the results out. Some lads are out of contract but all I can say everyone who is out of contract has been great, good professionals and respecting each other.
“They might have the odd bad day thinking ‘hey, won't be here next season’ but that has not shown. They have been at it every minute. I don't think anyone wants to go into the summer thinking they have just been relegated. The lads have all been fantastic.”