The family of ex-Black Cats player Nigel Saddington have paid tribute to the much-loved dad who fulfilled his childhood ambition to play for his hometown club.
Nigel Saddington was red and white through and through from being a youngster and hoped to one day play for the team.
And when he was finally scouted, and signed a contract for Doncaster Rovers in 1984, it set him on the path to Roker Park.
His older brother Adrian said: “Nigel always had a football with him, wherever he went. It was always football.
“He played other sports, cricket, squash and tennis but it was always football with Nigel.
“When he signed for Doncaster, we were all over the moon and would go down every weekend to watch him play. But he got homesick.”
Growing up I had no idea how big my dad playing for Sunderland was until I got into secondary school. Everyone used to ask about my dad.Hayley Saddington
However, determined not to see such a talent go to waste, his manager Billy Bremner managed to get him a place training with Sunderland.
It was during this spell the centre-half landed a place with his hometown club in 1986.
Adrian added: “He was a huge Sunderland fan when he was younger and wanted to play for the club - so he achieved his childhood ambition.”
Nigel moved to Carlisle United in 1988 where he became club captain. He remained at the club until 1991 when he was diagnosed with M.E. - a long-term chronic condition which affects the nervous and immune system - aged 25.
His former wife Vivienne said: “He was really poorly with the M.E. It had a massive affect on him, along with the diabetes.
“He had been diagnosed with diabetes while he was at Sunderland but he coped with it and wouldn’t let it get on top of him,
“But the M.E. made him really ill, there were days when he couldn’t get out of bed, and that was the end of his footballing career.”
Nigel, who was dad to Hayley and Ellye, and granddad to Willow Bungoni, three, went on to work for Nissan and when he could would often still play for various teams.
Daughter Hayley said: “He was such a funny man, he would always crack stupid jokes - he was a really good dad, who was always there for you.
“Growing up I had no idea how big my dad playing for Sunderland was until I got into secondary school. Everyone used to ask about my dad.
“He idolised Willow and she idolised him. He was a great granddad to her.”
A minutes silence was held at his former club Carlisle United following the news of his sudden death, from heart disease, aged 53, on January 24.
A service for Nigel will take place tomorrow at Sunderland Crematorium at 1pm.
Nigel leaves behind daughters Hayley and Ellye, brothers Adrian and Mark, sister Clare and grand-daughter Willow,