SWANSEA defender Alan Tate might be a footballing hero to the club’s fans, but he says he wasn’t even the best player in his school.
Adam Johnson was.
The two former Easington Comprehensive schoolboys could come face to face across the pitch at the Swans’ Liberty Stadium tomorrow.
And if they do, Tate will be the first to shake £10million Johnson’s hand and wish him all the best on his return home to the North East.
The Swansea centre-back is proud that Johnson is yet another player to have gone on from Easington Comp to make it in the Premier League – Newcastle’s former Sunderland-supporting duo Paul Kitson and Steve Harper also made that journey, as did ex-Sunderland stalwart Richard Ord.
But Tate believes Johnson – the only one to play for England – has to be regarded as the pick of the bunch and reckons he will only get better now he has joined Sunderland.
“I am a little bit older than Adam so I don’t know him – I was finishing at school when he was only just starting out,” Tate said.
“But I have played against him a couple of times when he was at Middlesbrough, and in the first game of last season at Manchester City.
“He is a very good player.
“He is one of those who I think needs to be starting week in, week out.
“I don’t think Roberto Mancini had confidence in him at City and that meant Adam didn’t have confidence himself.
“But I think, under Martin O’Neill, he will get his fair share of starts and that will be good for him.
“I know he is a Sunderland fan, too, so I expect him to do really well there.”
Both Johnson and fellow new boy Steven Fletcher are expected to make their Premier League debuts for Sunderland at the Liberty Stadium and Tate mused: “They have added two quality players after getting a good result at Arsenal on the opening day.
“And they have some good players in the squad – there’s Stephane Sessegnon and a lot of lads I know from Manchester United, like Phil Bardsley, John O’Shea and Wes Brown.
“I would love to play a part against them this weekend because I grew up a Sunderland fan.
“I used to watch them home and away and never wanted to see them get beaten, but I do this weekend.”
The Swansea vice-captain who turns 30 on Sunday is unlikely to start against Sunderland, with new manager Michael Laudrup admitting he didn’t see Tate starting the season in his first-choice line-up.
But Tate himself is determined to prove his worth rather than looking for the exit door.
“I have been in this position before,” he said. “In fact, I have been in a worse position because I have been there when we were in League Two.
“I didn’t really expect to start the season in the side.
“I had fitness problems last year, Ash Williams had a good season and we have signed a £3million centre-half in Chico Flores.
“For me, it’s about knuckling down and, when I get the chance, showing the manager what I can do.
“I felt like I played well against Barnsley in the cup on Tuesday so hopefully he was impressed.”