Sunderland's Grant Leadbitter opens up on emotional Stadium of Light return where his dad's ashes are scattered
Grant Leadbitter has opened up on his emotional Sunderland homecoming and playing at the Stadium of Light - where his dad's ashes are scattered.
The midfielder rejoined the Black Cats last month, nearly a decade after leaving his boyhood club.
But Leadbitter's return to the Stadium of Light runs far deeper than that, and the midfielder still remembers visiting the old Roker Park with his father Brian, a huge Sunderland fan who died suddenly in 2008.
Brian's ashes were scattered on the pitch at the Stadium of Light, where Leadbitter has played twice as an opposing player after moving to Ipswich a year later.
The midfielder made his second debut for the Black Cats in a 1-0 win over AFC Wimbledon on Saturday, an experience which brought back emotional memories about his past.
“Let me tell you, it’s an experience,” Leadbitter told the i. “I can tell you that. Sometimes I get caught up in it all, but now sometimes I also can laugh. Yeah, it’s an experience.
“My dad used to go to all the games, took me as a two-year-old to Roker Park, the Fulwell End. I kept going all the way through, up until I became a professional. He kept going.
“After Saturday’s game, I’d to do something upstairs for the club and when I looked over I saw a friend of my dad’s who he used to go with – Stu. I’d not seen him for years. It was nice, strange. I stopped my speech to go over and say hello.
“My dad used to love [Marco] Gabbiadini, Gatesy [Eric Gates]. He used to speak about Jimmy Montgomery, Bobby Kerr. When he passed away I got in touch with a few of his favourite players and they carried his coffin. Monty was one. I saw Monty on Saturday. Every time I see him I’m grateful.
“So the connection is deep, deep in the family. It will always be. That’s what my dad wanted, where he wanted to be."
In a lot of ways Saturday was a strange experience for Leadbitter, who admits his family have stayed away from the Stadium of Light following his father's passing.
“Saturday was the first time my mum’s been back," added Leadbitter.
"At the beginning it was too painful to go and my mum felt that. It was the first time my sisters had been back. There were times when you felt like going but you’ve to respect the football club. You can’t knock on the door.
“It’s taken a few years but I’ve got my head around it. The situation is the situation and everyone knows it here.
“Now I’ve to look at it as a job. It’s a challenge and if we succeed it’ll be even better for me because my dad’s there. But if we don’t succeed, there’s no point going on about it.”
At the full-time whistle, Leadbitter bent down and touched the turf: “Maybe that was the moment of realization, that I was back home,” he added.