The days used to start at half past seven for Danny Graham. Get up, wait on a street corner in Gateshead in the biting cold, into a van and then off to work at the Team Valley; to fit windows.
Graham was 17 and playing for Chester-le-Street in the Northern League. A club had not picked him up so when his friends were trotting out onto the lush green pitches of the local academies, Graham was screwing in window fittings. Or worse. Not an informal apprenticeship, just the jobs no one else fancied.
"I did it for eight months and I kept getting all the screws wrong," he says. "I only got paid coppers. I was just a little boy running around doing stuff. I did everything. The worst part was getting up at half seven and waiting on the corner in the freezing cold to get picked up, but I wouldn't change that. It is part of who I am. It is why I appreciate the playing time on the field. It was just the little rubbish jobs, cleaning the windows, nothing exciting. I was doing all the stuff they didn't want to do. There was no initiation, thank god."
There was last week, in the canteen at Sunderland's Academy of Light, when, halfway through his dinner, he had to sing Mr Brightside to his new team-mates.
Ten years join up the two incidents. He was taken to Chester-le-Street in the Northern league when a scout went to watch another player. Middlesbrough started watching him. He got the day off from window fitting to have a trial. He was supposed to be picked up one morning and informed his boss he was a footballer, after the club gave him a two-year contract. Graham has not looked back but it has not been a smooth ride. He scored for Middlesbrough against Manchester United but it was a football club buying big names at the time. Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink arrived, Graham went to Derby, Leeds, Blackpool and Carlisle on loan. At the latter the goals started to flow. Graham's career had a good fit. He was released by Middlesbrough and signed for them permanently. Two years later Watford paid £350,000. Graham kept scoring. Swansea, new to the Premier League, paid £3.5 million, and the goals did not stop.
"My football journey has been up and it has been down and it has certainly been around but I would not change it," he adds. "It was hard but it was driving me on to say I am good enough. Never once did I stop believing I would be a professional footballer.
"I've had massive highs in the game, I've had massive lows. I've had a lot of abuse and a lot of doubters throughout, going through the leagues. I've managed to prove them wrong. Nothing fazes me, I'm up for the challenge and I'm ready to go."
He has another one. A throwaway line in a Watford fanzine, when he said he would follow Gateshead, and not Sunderland if Newcastle, his team, ceased to exist, ensured there was no courtship when Martin O'Neill began his £5 million move for Graham. He was jeered onto the field at the Stadium of Light by a pocket of the club's supporters when he came on a substitute two days before he signed for Sunderland. That had changed by the time he came on at Reading, in a red and white shirt four days later, but he does not shy from the controversy.
"There is nothing to it, but I'm not going to hide from it as well," he said. "Yeah, the comments were made and they came out. As footballers there's a lot worse comes out about other people. For me now it is about putting that to bed, coming in the door, showing how committed I am to the club. Score a few goals and I'm sure that will all be forgotten and we can move on. I expected it (the reaction).
"I'm not the first Newcastle fan to play for this football club, and people have come here and had successful times. I want to do as well as I can here. Fans have their opinions but the reaction I've had since I signed and showed I wanted to be here has been totally different."
He gave up a Carling Cup final appearance with Swansea to move back home to the North east. "The fans gave me a great reception at Reading," he adds. "They will see my commitment when I play."
He has a footballer's life now but a working man's humour.
Sometimes window fitters do work on his house. "I stand they're saying, 'You're doing that wrong, you're using the wrong screws there mate.'"
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