Watch Grant Leadbitter's emotional farewell to Sunderland crowd as club say 'door is open' for Black Cats hero
Grant Leadbitter bid a moving farewell to the Sunderland crowd before Saturday’s League One clash with Bolton Wanderers.
Leadbitter recently announced his retirement after leaving the club earlier this summer, and was the guest of honour at the Stadium of Light.
Supporters watched a montage of his finest Sunderland goals, including his stunning strike against Arsenal in the Premier League.
Leadbitter then came to the edge of the pitch to salute the Red & White Army.
Club legend Jimmy Montgomery also presented Leadbitter with a framed photograph of some of the midfielder’s most iconic moments in a red-and-white shirt.
The former midfielder is weighing up his next steps in the game, and is expected to continue earning his coaching badges.
Writing in the pre-match programme, head coach Lee Johnson said the ‘door was open’ for him to return to the club.
"From the Stadium of Light to the Academy of Light, Grant will always be welcome at this football club. He’s a fantastic guy, who is so, so passionate about Sunderland, and he’s also been a top player.
"It was an honour to work with him and we have always talked about leaving the door open for him to return at some point in a different capacity – you want to draw local and historic knowledge from him about what it means to play for Sunderland because he has done that with quality and immense pride.
"He deserves all the plaudits he will receive today, so hopefully he enjoys it and it caps off a fantastic career.”
Leadbitter made over 500 appearances across his career, a hugely popular figure at Middlesbrough where he was also an integral part in a promotion campaign to the Premier League, as he was under Roy Keane on Wearside.
Announcing his retirement on Instagram last week, Leadbitter wrote: “The time has come to officially end my days playing professional football.
"After taking a few months off to enjoy a holiday with the family and reflect, I've realised I am ready to retire.
"Of course there has been the temptation to carry on, but since playing my final game for Sunderland in May I had it in my mind I wasn't going to play on. I just wanted to be sure it was the correct decision.
"For me to finish my second and final spell at the club where it all started, the one I supported as a boy, and where I loved going with my mam and dad, just seems right.
"Now I can look forward.
"I would like to thank my mam and dad for everything they did for me and my sisters - helping me to fulfil a dream.
"And, of course, I want to thank my wife and two daughters for all their support throughout a career which has led me to play for clubs with great history.
"The memories I have playing for Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Ipswich will live with me forever.
"Those promotion celebrations with Sunderland and Middlesbrough were incredible and I am proud to have played in the Premier League for both.
"I have worked with some fantastic people, some top players and some brilliant managers. I loved wearing the colours of all the clubs I have played for and it was an honour to wear the England shirt from schoolboy all the way up to Under-21s.
"Who knows what the future holds but I am excited about it.
"I will miss playing but whether I go into coaching, the media or even something else I know I can draw on my experiences and help others in the future.
"Once again, thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way."
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