Recently, I caught up with former Sunderland and Scotland centre half Steven Caldwell.
Caldwell signed for Sunderland in 2004 from derby rivals Newcastle United for Mick McCarthy and left three years later under Roy Keane to Burnley. The Scottish centre half signed a pre-contract agreement in the January to join local rivals Sunderland from Newcastle after receiving limited game time there.
WAW: What were your inspirations to be a professional footballer?
SC: “Going to my first game was special, mine was Celtic v Motherwell in a Scottish League Cup semi at Hampden Park on a Wednesday night, floodlights on, and it was a great feeling. I knew from then what I wanted to do; also my dad played semi professional and I wanted to play football as a job.”
WAW: What was it like to play for Sunderland, being a former Newcastle player?
SC: “It was difficult, I didn’t play much there but when I heard Mick wanted to sign me and heard his plans I knew it was the right move. I was entirely focused at the club and understood the club and the passion in the area for football.”
WAW: What was it like to feature in a derby for Sunderland and what was different during the build up to one?
SC: “I was always looking forward to these games, it was always intense for derby games and I felt lucky to play in them. You had to try not to be too up for these games, you never needed explaining to you how much these games meant but you couldn’t get carried away.”
“It was no problem for me to play against Newcastle, I took defeat hard in these games especially. I lost at St James in the rain to that brilliant Quinny header and lost at home for Sunderland as well. We scored first and looked like we could go on and get something but we just fell apart, that was painful for us definitely. There was nowhere to hide in these games."
WAW: What was Mick McCarthy like as a coach?
SC: “Mick was tough, especially with me as he was tougher on centre backs. I have so much respect for him, he gave me a chance when I was still a young lad, he had respect for me as a player and I respected him as a coach. I’m so grateful of the opportunity he gave me to play a high standard of football.”
WAW: How did that promotion goal v Leicester feel?
SC: “Incredible! It was a great feeling when that hit the back of the net; it was a tense game and everyone was up for it. It was whether we could hold on, fortunately we did and we were promoted. The dressing room afterwards was unbelievable too!”
WAW: How was Roy Keane as a manager?
SC: “It was a strange relationship we all had with him. When he first arrived I already had a strain and was out for a few weeks, I played a few games then picked up another knock. In January, he told me that I wasn’t part of his plans; I was gutted, as I wanted to stay at Sunderland for a very long time. It was purely his decision, I hold nothing against him though, once a manager has made his mind up then you cannot do much about it, you just have to move on.”
WAW: You returned to the Stadium of Light with Burnley later that season and Sunderland were promoted that day, how did it feel?
SC: “It was strange, I’d been playing here only a few months ago as a home player. I mean nobody was stopping that wondergoal from Carlos Edwards, really superb. It was good to see Sunderland promoted but I wanted to be a part of that team.”
WAW: You also worked with Kevin Ball for a short time as interim manager, do you think he’ll return or who will be the best candidate?
SC: “It’s hard to say really, I don’t know Kevin’s ambitions of being a manager; what I can say is that he’s a great guy. The last time I saw him was a few years ago in Toronto for a pre-season friendly. It’s difficult for me to judge, I’m out in Canada, working for Toronto FC. What I will say is that Simon Grayson should’ve been given more time at the club. Whoever Sunderland appoint next the board need to give him 100% backing, some money and the supporters are amazing so they’ll always back the manager.”
WAW: After playing in England, you went across to Canada on loan at Toronto FC before moving there permanently, how different is the MLS to the English game?
SC: “There’s more opportunity in the MLS, especially for younger players, your roster is your roster and you have to work with the players you’ve got. New York Red Bulls, Dallas and Toronto all have great youth academies and bring through some real talent.”
WAW: So what are you doing now?
SC: “I’m working for Toronto FC, I’m part of the Grassroots project there and help bring through youth players. I work with the community as a representative for the club as well as the Grassroots project. I’m also a pundit on TSN for Champions League and Europa League games, as well as a few Premier League games.”
WAW: Who turned out better: you or your brother (Gary)?
SC: “Haha! I’ll let the fans decide that one! Him if you’re talking about medals, he has 55 Scotland caps as well. I mean it was an honour to play alongside him at Wigan and for Scotland, we’re the first brothers to play for Scotland in the same team for over 60 years and there hasn’t been any since. It was honestly great to play alongside him.”
WAW: If you had to pick a starting 11 of Sunderland players whilst you were at the club, who would be in it?
SC: “The promotion team of 2004/05 season! That’d be my team – so Thomas Myhre in goal, me and Gary Breen at centre half, Stephen Wright at right back, George McCartney at left back, Whitehead and Carl Robinson in the centre with Julio and Liam Lawrence on the wings, Marcus Stewart and Sleeves (Stephen Elliott) up top.””
It was an absolute pleasure to talk to Steven about his career, such a nice bloke.