Long-term friends but for 90 minutes tomorrow afternoon Lee Cattermole and Matthew Bates will become the best of enemies. Chief football writer Paul Fraser spoke to the Sunderland and Middlesbrough captains to hear what it will be like to meet in the FA Cup

FOR the majority of those on Wearside and Teesside, tomorrow will be an FA Cup fourth round tie with a difference. Sunderland and Middlesbrough will meet one another for the first time in a little more than three years, with many rival supporters likely to know one another through their working lives or just socially.

For Lee Cattermole, the Sunderland captain, it will be just the same. He might have left his boyhood heroes in the summer of 2008, but his ties to the Riverside Stadium remain strong.

As well as his father, Barry, being a regular at Middlesbrough matches both at home and away, and many of his closest friends still supporting the team, Cattermole has been the man to turn to for tickets this weekend.

But the tie's appeal to the 23-year-old does not stop there. While he would have been looking forward to this game like no other under normal circumstances anyway, tomorrow will see him lead Sunderland out alongside one of his closest pals.

Matthew Bates, the Middlesbrough captain, and Cattermole have known one another for more than a decade - even before the pair graduated through the academy system together at Boro's Rockliffe Park training base.

"I think my mam was his mam's friend before we all knew each other, that's how far back this goes," said Cattermole, who was clearly looking forward to the on-pitch reunion. "Matty's brother, Darren, was in goal for my Sunday league team, Marton FC, as well. Our families have known each other ages."

There will be some of the Cattermoles in the away end at the Stadium of Light today, while most will be in the player's corporate box. The Bates', on the other hand, will not be suffering from split loyalties, it will be Middlesbrough all the way.

"My dad's a massive Boro fan, massive. Always has been, but he just wants me to do well, so I think it could be different on Sunday," said Cattermole, who recalled heading to the Riverside during his school days to watch them in action for the first time against Leeds United.

"My dad was in the Fairfield pub in Stockton with all his friends, all Boro fans, when the FA Cup draw was made and he said the place was buzzing.

"I had been wanting it for ages but I think he has been avoiding it because of all his friends. But in fairness, he just wants to see me do well. He will be in the box at Sunderland, not in the Boro end."

Bates, whose father Brian is also a lifelong Middlesbrough fan, has been inundated with requests for tickets, so after using up his allocation he was quick to turn to Cattermole in the hope he could help.

The pair have been drinking buddies for years now, they have also been on holidays together while they hit the golf course for 18 holes quite regularly.

Bates, brought up in Eaglescliffe, is just a short drive from the Hartburn area of Stockton were Cattermole spent most of his youth. The former attended Egglescliffe School, while the latter was a pupil at Ian Ramsey Church of England School. Despite different schools, they soon struck up a friendship during their days at Middlesbrough's academy.

They head in to tomorrow's tie knowing Middlesbrough are regarded as the underdogs, despite sitting fourth in the Championship. And Bates has high hopes of beating Cattermole at something other than pool for once.

"I've known Catts since a really young age, so I've played all kinds of sports against him. He's one of these people who's pretty good at everything," said Bates.

"I can't remember the last time I played golf with him - I pretty much gave up trying. He's a seriously good player. If he really put his mind to it, I reckon he could probably play off scratch. He always seemed to be par or under par whenever I played with him.

"Pool was the game to get him at though. That's the one thing where I'd be confident of beating him in pretty much every game."

Underneath the gamesmanship, the competitive edge and a strong friendship, however, there is also mutual respect for each other's ability as a footballer.

When Cattermole was making a significant impact at Wigan, following his £3.5m move there from Middlesbrough in 2008, Bates' career was under threat.

The centre-back, more than capable of slotting in to the midfield, had to battle back from four serious cruciate knee ligament injuries. Yet, somehow, he has been the bedrock of many of Middlesbrough's displays in the last two seasons.

"I spoke to him all the time then, still do," said Cattermole. "Everybody questioned whether he would be back and I think sometimes he questioned it himself.

"To come back is an incredible story. To return from four cruciate knee ligaments tears is surely unheard of. It is unbelievable."

Cattermole has also had his fair share of injuries, mainly since his move to Sunderland. He has had to work his way back to full fitness and find top form despite heavy criticism from Sunderland's supporters, whom he felt regarded him as a 'Brucie boy' because he had been bought twice by Steve Bruce.

Under Martin O'Neill he has shown everyone on Wearside he has the ability and hunger to lead the club in to a bright new era, something Bates is acutely aware of.

"We've all had our bad times in and around the sport. I just think it'll be quite an emotional day when we go out there with each other, leading the two teams out," said Bates, knowing the pair of them have also had to deal with off-the-field problems too over the years.

"People have written us off and people have said 'they've got no chance of making it with that attitude and lifestyle'. You know, I think we've proved all the critics wrong.

"A lot of people wrote us both off, judging our characters as they wanted to. For me to lead Middlesbrough out and for him to lead Sunderland out on Sunday, it's two fingers up to those critics, if you know what I mean."

Returning to the Premier League is Bates' long-term goal and his aim is to ensure Middlesbrough rejoin Sunderland there next season. The FA Cup, however, has been a nice distraction so far, while the Black Cats camp has hopes under O'Neill of going all the way.

With that in mind, beyond the friendship, there will be a steely determination to succeed against one another tomorrow lunch-time - even if there will be a few moments when they reflect on where it all started.

Professionally the pair first played together in the Premier League in May 2006. That was the afternoon when Steve McClaren made Cattermole the youngest ever captain of Middlesbrough in the youngest ever team, which narrowly lost 1-0 at Fulham.

Two years earlier they played their part in Boro's run to FA Youth Cup glory, even though Cattermole, 16 at the time, was an unused substitute in the final as he was a couple of years younger than the rest.

"It'll be lovely to walk out and shake his hand at Sunderland and we will probably go for a drink afterwards, although we both play on Wednesday night so that might not happen!" said Bates, 25.

Neither of them have got anything specifically planned, but Cattermole thinks swapping shirts will be the perfect way to mark the meeting of the two long term friends.

"It is funny when you are kids together and suddenly he is walking out with Boro and I am taking Sunderland out the tunnel," said Cattermole, 23.

During the last fortnight, since the draw for the fourth round was made, it has reminded the Sunderland skipper of just how special the FA Cup can be.

"It's amazing and this is the best tie in the fourth round by far," said Cattermole, even after considering the likes of Liverpool's meeting with Manchester United.

"It is a massive game for the area. It has caught the imagination and everyone is talking about it. My friends go on Facebook all the time and they tell me everyone is talking only about this game.

"Busloads are coming from Boro - I just have to make sure they go back knowing Sunderland are in the next round and not them!"