DANNY Graham says a handful of familiar faces have already made him feel at home at Sunderland.
Graham had played alongside three of Sunderland’s players prior to his £5m move to the Stadium of Light last month.
The frontman came through the ranks at Middlesbrough alongside Lee Cattermole and Adam Johnson, while he lined up with keeper Keiren Westwood at Carlisle after both were forced to drop down the leagues in search of regular first-team football.
And after returning to the North East following a three-and-a-half year absence, Graham says those old team-mates have immediately integrated him into the fold on Wearside.
Graham said: “It helps if you know a few players – Catts and Johnno I obviously know from the youth team at Boro, and I know Westwood from my Carlisle days.
“That’s helped me settled in really nicely.
“The rest of the lads have been very welcoming as well from as soon as I came in the door.”
Unlike Cattermole and Johnson, who left Boro for fees totalling around £10m, Graham was allowed to leave the Riverside for nothing by then manager Gareth Southgate in the summer of 2007.
Johnson told the Gazette earlier this month how the Boro squad had been “surprised” by that decision, despite Boro’s investment in more high-profile strikers.
But Graham, who had joined Boro from Northern League Chester-le-Street Town, insists he harbours no bitterness towards the Teessiders and believes moving to Carlisle and then Watford proved integral towards him eventually returning to the Premier League.
“I got in the Middlesbrough first-team at a young age, which was amazing only a couple of years after coming from non-league and then going to places like Old Trafford and Anfield,” said the 27-year-old.
“But the manager had a lot of big names like (Jimmy-Floyd) Hasselbaink and (Mark) Viduka, and it was going to be hard for a 19-year-old to get in the team.
“My plan was always to go out, play first-team football, and rebuild my career from there. Luckily that’s happened.
“Leaving a big football club at Middlesbrough, where you get everything done for you, and then going away to Carlisle where you clean your own kit and stuff, makes you realise how much you want to get back to the top.
“In terms of my football education, I wouldn’t change going down to League One, and then having to prove myself again in the Championship and Premier League.
“I wouldn’t change it for one bit.
“That’s who I am today. I never take anything for granted.”