Five of our own: Academy players who have fired up our city

Sunderland fans love to see a local lad do well, and luckily, we have seen many come through our academy over the years to represent and even captain the team.

Here is just a selection of some players who have #FiredUpOurCity and even our country over the last few decades. 


Everton stopper Jordan Pickford signed with the Sunderland academy at the age of eight and progressed all the way through the ranks to the first team where he made 35 appearances.

During his time at the Black Cats he went out on loan to six sides from the Conference Premier (Darlington and Alfreton Town), League Two (Burton Albion), League One (Burton Albion, Bradford City) and the Championship (Preston North End). 

He made over 100 appearances on loan at these sides which meant that by the age of 21 he was ready to make his first-team debut. 

That came against Arsenal in the FA Cup and he followed that up with his first Premier League start against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. 

He earned the number one spot from Vito Mannone for the 2016-17 season and played 29 games in which he was the bright spark in a very disappointing campaign. 

Those performances earned him a £30 million move to Everton where he has continued to develop into a world class ‘keeper. 

His most notable achievement to date is helping guide England to the World semi-final in 2018 and winning a penalty shoot-out against Colombia. 


Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson is arguably the most successful player to have come through the Academy of Light ranks. 

He made his debut for Sunderland during the 2009-10 campaign and played 39 league games scoring two goals against Birmingham City and Manchester City.

The following campaign saw him continue to play every week and he was a vital cog in our side that achieved a 10th place finish.

That summer, Henderson earned a move to Liverpool and he has played over 300 games in all competitions for the Merseyside club. 

He has also captained England on numerous occasions and was a key part of the side that got to the World Cup semi-final this past summer. 


Current Sunderland star Grant Leadbitter is enjoying his second spell at the club having come through the ranks at the Academy and making his first-team debut back in 2003. 

His first spell with the club saw, Sunderland earn two promotions and maintain their Premier League status in 2007-08 and 2008-09. 

Arguably his best moment in a Sunderland shirt was his phenomenal effort against Arsenal from outside the box in 2008 which earned Roy Keane’s men a vital point. 

A move to Ipswich Town in 2009 followed where he rejoined boss Roy Keane and made over 100 appearances. 

He then joined Middlesbrough in 2012, playing 244 games and scoring 32 goals and he also helped them to the Premier League in 2016.

Leadbitter then returned to Sunderland in January 2019 and has cemented his place in the starting XI, with his set-pieces particularly impressing.


Former Sunderland captain Michael Gray enjoyed his best years at Sunderland helping the club to a record promotion in 1999 before playing a significant part in our two Premier League seventh place finishes in 2000 and 2001. 

His most important goals for the Black Cats were arguably his goal at St James’ Park in 1997 and his winner against Middlesbrough at the Stadium of Light in our 1-0 victory.

Gray might be most synonymous though for his penalty miss against Charlton Athletic in the 1998 play-off final which led to the Lads missing out on promotion - but his performances over the next few years more than made up for that.

During his time on Wearside he earned three caps for England and played over 330 games for the club. 

After leaving the Black Cats he enjoyed spells at Celtic, Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United, Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday.


The final player in this entry is our current captain George Honeyman who joined the Academy when he was just 10 years of age.

Northumberland born, George started getting regular game time during the 2017-18 campaign in which the club were relegated, but he earned the respect of fans with his solid performances throughout a difficult campaign. 

He earned the captaincy this past summer when new boss Jack Ross came into the club and has since led the club nobley.

During his time at the club he has played over 70 games and scored 11 goals - with his most notable goal coming in the final minutes against Rochdale where he won the Lads the game. 

He is the first academy graduate to captain the team since Michael Gray and the first local lad to lead us out at Wembley since Barry Venison did so at the 1985 Milk Cup final.

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