Pre-match: Leadbitter to be celebrated

Sunderland AFC will welcome Grant Leadbitter back to the Stadium of Light on Saturday to celebrate the former midfielder’s fantastic career.

Following the 35-year-old’s recent announcement that he is hanging up his boots, Leadbitter’s career will be honoured ahead of kick-off when Lee Johnson’s side take on Bolton Wanderers.

The midfielder started his career on Wearside, progressing through the ranks at the Academy of Light before going to make 206 appearances and scoring 18 goals during two spells at the club.

Leadbitter was an integral part of the Sunderland side promoted to the Premier League under the management of Roy Keane, a feat he repeated during his time at Middlesbrough.

The midfielder also represented Ipswich Town 126 times before moving to the Riverside, with his Wearside return ending in silverware as the club lifted the EFL Trophy at Wembley Stadium earlier this year.

"The time has come to officially end my days playing professional football,” said Leadbitter upon announcing his retirement.

"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.

“I would like to thank my mam and dad for everything they did for me – helping me to fulfil a dream – and my sisters.

"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.”

Ahead of the Wearside-born midfielder’s return, Head Coach Lee Johnson paid tribute to a ‘fantastic’ player, person and career.

“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 absolute quality and immense pride.

“He deserves all of the plaudits he will receive today, so hopefully he enjoys it and it caps off a fantastic career.”

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