THURSDAY was a fitting time for Danny Graham’s first full round of media interviews as a Sunderland player. Minutes before he spoke to the Press, Jamie Carragher announced his retirement from football at the end of the season.
Before Carragher was a Liverpool legend he was an Evertonian. In football it does not matter who you grew up supporting, as long as you give your all for the team you end up at. Graham is hoping that applies to him.
The 27-year-old is not the first Newcastle United fan to wear the red-and-white shirt. He is not even the only one in the first team.
The Gateshead-born striker is not hiding it, or apologising. It was not his boyhood allegiance which made joining Sunderland tricky, more joking to a Watford fanzine that if the Magpies ceased to exist he would rather support anyone but their local rivals.
Graham refuses to fob supporters off with insincere apologies. He has no problem with those who booed him, planning to win them over with actions, not words.
“There is nothing to it, but I’m not going to hide from it,” he says. “Yeah, the comments were made, they came out, whatever. As footballers there’s a lot worse about other people.
“For me now it is about putting that to bed and 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.”
With other options, Graham could easily have been put off by his reception as a Swansea City substitute less than 48 hours before his widely-anticipated transfer. To say the South West Corner of the Stadium of Light was hostile is putting it mildly.
“The game couldn’t have happened any worse for me,” he acknowledges with a laugh. “Swansea v Sunderland two days before deadline day!
“In the back of my mind I knew I was going to get the abuse I got. It’s fine. I totally understand that. You get it everywhere you go anyway. I was expecting not to come on to be honest! I was thinking I was going to be safe!
“I wasn’t contracted to Sunderland. I massively expected it, but the reaction I’ve had since I signed and showed I wanted to be here has been totally different.
“I had no problem with the booing. None at all. The reception I got at the Madejski (Stadium, where he made his Sunderland debut four days later) was unbelievable and I was delighted with that.
“I’m not the first Newcastle fan to play for this club, and people have come here and had successful times. I want to score as many goals as I can and the fans will see my commitment as soon as I get time on the pitch.
“I play in the ideal position to create a relationship with the fans.”
His demeanour is credit to Graham’s upbringing. Less his parents, though they must have played a part, more his time as a non-league footballer and window-fitter. He did not join Middles-brough’s academy until he was 17.
“The manager (of Northern League Chester-le-Street) came to watch a different player and ended up signing me,” he recalls.
“I played for Chester-le-Street on a Saturday and Felling Magpies on a Sunday in an older team. I was non-stop playing football. I started at Ayton Cherries in Washington, then I went to Dunlop, also in Washington, then Felling Magpies, Leam Rangers . . . I had more transfers then than I have now!
“Chester-le-Street did well in the FA Youth Cup. That’s when the Middlesbrough thing came about.
“I had a trial and signed youth-team forms at Boro. A year-and-a-half later I made my first-team debut at Man U.”
At Chester-le-Street, he had to earn a living outside the game.
“I was a window fitter at Team Valley,” he recalls. “I did it for eight months. It was good. I kept getting all the screws wrong!
“I only got paid coppers. I was just a little boy running around doing stuff. The worst part was getting up at half seven and waiting on the corner in the freezing cold to get picked up (at Middlesbrough it was head of recruitment Ron Bone he waited for his lift from).
“I wouldn’t change that. It is part of who I am. It is why I appreciate playing time on the field. That was why I wanted to leave Swansea and play and not waste any time.
“Working and not being on the scholarship until later gave me a massive lesson compared to the lads who came in straight from school and got everything done for them.
“When I signed my scholarship at Middlesbrough I was earning less than doing the windows, but that never once bothered me. All I ever wanted to be was a footballer. They took a chance on me and that is why I am here.”
He only made one Premier League appearance for Boro, dropping down to League One Carlisle United to make his way up again.
“I think I did get a fair deal,” he says. “Coming in as a second-year scholar on a two-year deal I think I got 10 appearances one season. It was a fair amount, especially from not having been in the professional game. When Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka signed it was always going to be difficult for a 19-year-old to dislodge them.
“It was all about going to Carlisle and rebuilding my career. In some senses it was tough, but in others it wasn’t. I was playing first-team football week-in, week-out. It helped develop me and grow as a player. Cleaning your own kit and seeing different sides of clubs, was really helpful for me.”
Little wonder he is so grounded.
“Nothing does faze me,” he insists. “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
“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?
“I’ve managed to prove doubters wrong throughout my career. I’m up for the challenge and ready to go.”