North East football legend, Grant Leadbitter has announced his retirement after 18 seasons in the sport.
Leadbitter began and finished his career at Sunderland in two separate spells across ten seasons, having first joined the Mackems’ Youth Academy aged 16 after spending his childhood growing up in Fence Houses, Houghton-Le-Spring, Sunderland.
The midfielder also played for Rotherham on a short loan spell from Sunderland in 2005-06 season, as well as enjoy lengthy stints at Ipswich and Middlesbrough between September 2009 – January 2019.
Explaining his decision to retire in an open-letter, the 35 year-old revealed that he felt that ‘the time has come to officially end my days playing professional footballer’ after reflecting on his career across the summer.
Leadbitter also revealed that he had the ‘temptation’ to play on despite having been released by Sunderland at end of last season, although retirement was in his mind hence the wait until now before confirming that ‘it was the correct decision.’
Having begun and ended his career at Sunderland, Leadbitter reflected that the Stadium of Light felt like a full-circle ending, as he said: “For me to finish after 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.”
Leadbitter also paid tribute to his family for their support throughout his career as well as fans of all four clubs who he made ‘memories’ playing for, especially at Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Ipswich respectively.
Reflecting on his stand-out moments, he singled out his two promotions to Premier League with Sunderland in 2004-05 and 06-07 seasons and his promotion in May 2016 with Middlesbrough as “incredible” joint-top moments of his career.
Although he failed to feature for England senior team after having played his way up through the ranks to the Under-21s squad, Leadbitter is delighted to have worked with “fantastic” teammates and managers and described representing his country as “an honour” at youth level.
Looking ahead to the future, Leadbitter revealed that he is “excited” about the future which he revealed lies in either coaching or media, although he has refused to rule out something entirely different as long as he “can draw on my experiences and help others in the future.”
Leadbitter’s two major honours both came with Sunderland as the Black Cats clinched promotion in 2006-07 Championship season as champions, before he helped them to win 2020-21 EFL Trophy last season after finishing runners-up in 2018-19 season.