Skipper Steph’s got the X-Factor!

CUP TEST: Steph Bannon.
CUP TEST: Steph Bannon.
Have your say

IN A list of events most unlikely to be seen on a football pitch, Lee Cattermole singing to an injured team-mate as he was carried off the field in agony would appear prominently.

That scenario played out last Sunday, although it was not men’s captain Cattermole exercising his vocal chords, but Women’s counterpart Steph Bannon.

The casualty during the Lady Black Cats’ fifth round win against Manchester City was midfielder Rachel Furness.

The Northern Ireland international’s studs caught in the turn, her knee twisted badly, and she fell in a heap crying with pain.

Physios from both clubs, and Bannon, were on the scene quickly.

After several minutes of treatment, Furness was lifted to her feet and, arms around the physios, was helped off the pitch. The painfully slow walk – or hobble – was accompanied by sympathic appaluse form the crowd ... and signing from the captain.

“I’ve been in the position before myself,” said the 24-year-old, who missed six months of last season with a knee injury of her own.

“I know exactly what it’s like and what goes through your mind.

“My singing isn’t great! But it was just an attempt to distract Rachel from the pain. Anything that could do that would be worth trying.”

Bannon takes her role as captain very seriously.

She’s a natural, though. Appointed skipper when she was just 19 because of her leadership qualities and vocal approach on the field, she organises, encourages and cajoles her team-mates.

She captained the team to the FA Cup final in 2009 – lost 2-1 to Arsenal – having just turned 20.

There was promotion to the top division, then disappointment as the club failed in a bid to be part of the new eight-team Super League and was effectively demoted back to the second tier.

But the team has grown from there. Two Premier League titles have been won and the League Cup also entered the trophy cabinet last season after a 2-1 win against Leeds United at Northampton’s Sixfields Stadium.

“I’ve picked up a lot of experience along the way!” laughed Bannon, who celebrated her birthday yesterday.

“It was a shock – I was only 18 at the time – when the manager (Mick Mulhern) took me to one side and said ‘I want you to be the captain and to build a team around you’.

“I don’t pretend to be the best player, but I’m glad he saw something in me to make me captain. I’ve loved doing the job.”

A hat-trick of league titles is a strong possibility as Sunderland lead the table again, while tomorrow they take on old rivals Leeds again – this time in the semi-final of the League Cup at Eppleton CW (2pm).

Bannon is desperate to win – and to have the chance to lead the team out at another cup final, as she missed out last year when her own knee injury left her sidelined for six agonising months. How she is valued at the club was shown, though, as she jointly lifted the trophy with captain-on-the-day Kelly McDougall.

“Every footballer says it, but it’s so hard having to watch and not be able to play.

“I was kicking and heading every ball. It was the same in the game at Cardiff a few weeks later when we retained the league title. I was so nervous but in the end Beth Mead scored the goal that sealed it. That was the point when all the tears came out!”

Unfortunately, Furness faces a stretch on the sidelines herself now – and that’s been a familiar story this season.

“It’s been our hardest year in terms of injuries,” said Bannon.

“But as a captain, it’s great to see players who are working so hard come in and take their chance.

“In recent weeks we’ve had the likes of Abbey Joice, Megan Beer, Ellie Christon, Ruth Sutcliffe and Jordan Atkinson coming in and doing well.

“Obviously players coming back from injury will return – but a lot of these players will come through to be regulars in the first team in the future.

“It’s my job to think about the other players, what can be done to help them, and those – a lot of the younger players – who need support.”

Bannon’s next task is to lead Sunderland out in tomorrow’s semi-final.

“Part of my job is to make sure everyone is focussed. I’m sure there’ll be no need for that tomorrow, though. It’s a cup semi-final and everyone is up for it.”

H The other ties in this competition are still at the quarter-finals stage. Portsmouth host Barnet, with the winners going to Blackburn Rovers or Aston Villa. Both games are scheduled for tomorrow.