Many happy memories for retiring Sunderland skipper
Name a legendary Sunderland captain.
Kevin Ball? Bobby Kerr? The list is hardly as long as Anthony Joshua’s arm.
What about Stephanie Bannon? The name may not trip off the tongue like the aforementioned gentlemen but she’s definitely worthy of inclusion.
The 28-year-old has hung up her size eights after announcing her retirement from football.
Beth Mead may have captured more headlines at Sunderland and the likes of her old Lady Black Cats team-mates Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Jordan Nobbs, Jill Scott and Demi Stokes might have higher profiles.
But NO-ONE has made the contribution to Sunderland Ladies like Steph Bannon.
She has been Miss Sunderland, woman and girl, but after spending half of her life proudly wearing red and white stripes, it is all over.
Having led Melanie Reay’s team to an excellent fifth place in the Women’s Super League 1 Spring Series, Bannon has retired and with “no regrets” or second thoughts.
“It was a hard decision, but it’s not one I made overnight,” she told the Echo. “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.
“Obviously, I will miss it all, it’s been a massive part of my life for 15 years.
“I need to move on, but I’ll keep the great memories.”
The success of Bannon has been made all the more incredible by the fact she has had to juggle playing football at the top level with work in the real world.
During the day, she is Miss Bannon, a PE teacher at Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough.
“I love my job and I need to put my heart and soul into that,” said Steph, who also now plans to spend more time with fiance Scott.
“They have been great, whenever we’ve had a midweek fixture I’ve always had the time off I’ve needed. I can’t fault them in any way, shape or form.
“I could not have asked for a better head to work for, or a better school. Now I want to focus on my teaching and having some free time.”
She has earned the right to both, having put her heart and soul into SAFC. Her record is impeccable.
Bannon led the side to the 2009 FA Cup final when they lost 2-1 to Arsenal in the final at Pride Park in Derby.
She then went on to skipper Sunderland to the WSL2 title in 2014 to reach the top flight, where they have subsequently finished fourth, seventh and fifth.
“Leading the team out at an FA Cup final has to be one of my highlights,” she said.
“We were massive underdogs in the competition and we won team of the round of two separate occasions and we saw off Chelsea 4-0 in the semi-final.
“It was an amazing journey to get to the final and to enjoy the day and occasion was a memory that will stay with me forever.
“Winning Super League 2 was incredible after the massive disappointment and not getting into Super League first team of asking.
“I remember we had a chance to seal the title at home to Doncaster, but we were beaten which meant we had to win our last four games to go up - we were successful and got promoted.”
An outstanding defender, her leadership skills were spotted by previous boss Mick Mulhern and his successors, Carlton Fairweather and Reay have retained her as skipper despite her not being one of the full-time players.
“When we got relegated from the National Premier League, as it was known at the time, into the Northern Division we lost a lot of our international players,” she recalled.
“Mick informed me he wanted to build the defence around me and make me the captain. I was shocked, but honoured, to be asked. I grabbed it with both hands and never looked back.”
Now after devoting half of her life to SAFC, she is now looking forward to a new chapter.
As for Sunderland Ladies, a legend will take some replacing.