Sunderland footballer Chris Rigg aims for more Sky Bet Championship starts as the Black Cats push for a Premier League return

Stadium of Light, home of Sunderland AFC (credit: Adam Tones)


Wayne Rooney and Jude Bellingham have risen to the pinnacle of football, is Chris Rigg next? I sat down with the teenage sensation and Sunderland Under-21 coach John Hewitson to discuss Rigg’s journey so far, why he chose Sunderland and his academy pathway to first-team stardom.

Rigg’s debut at 15 years, and 203 days was quite the moment, overtaking former goalkeeper Derek Forster as the club’s youngest-ever footballer. From a class of thirty to playing in front of 40,000 fans, Rigg’s journey has been far from normal.

After achieving his pre-season goal of one first-team start, Rigg is looking to push on and cement his place in the Black Cats’ starting XI. Unknown to many only 16 months ago, Rigg announced himself to the footballing world in 2023 on a chilly January afternoon at Croud Meadow. Now 16, Rigg is one of the most talked about upcoming English talents and his performances are matching the hype.

After a whirlwind year, Rigg was handed his first start against table-topping Leicester City only six weeks ago. The midfielder looked as comfortable as any on the field that Tuesday evening despite battling against Conor Coady and Jamie Vardy’s experienced heads.

“I was nervous, to say the least, but I believe a lot in first action on the pitch, so I got my first tackle, my first pass and I wasn’t nervous at all and played my game,” Rigg admitted.

After being scouted playing for Hebburn Town the midfielder has risen through SAFC academy ranks and often stepped up age groups to further develop his footballing ability. Tony Mowbray handed Rigg his professional bow against Shrewsbury Town on January 7, 2023, replacing Edouard Michut in the 81st minute, as the Black Cats trailed their hosts by a goal – 15 minutes later the full-time whistle blew, and Rigg’s Sunderland advanced into the fourth round of the FA Cup.

After receiving the nod ahead of his trip to Shrewsbury, Rigg reflected on the moment he told his parents: “My mam was a bit scared to be honest because she doesn’t really come to games because she gets nervous, but my dad was buzzing, and he was straight on the train. It was mad because I couldn’t see him in the away end the whole time but when I was coming on, I looked and saw him which settled my nerves.”

Rigg jumped at the opportunity of joining Sunderland, “As a boy playing boys club football, I got picked up in my first game and it all went from there really and then the scout came up to my dad and asked if I wanted to play for Sunderland and I was like, definitely.”

Hewitson first watched Rigg at Under-13 level and has since played a part in Rigg’s academy pathway to first-team football. “It’s been really interesting to see how he’s progressed and accelerated within the environment at the club. I think in terms of his mentality, he just doesn’t get flustered. A lot of people would get overawed or anxious about playing against some of the real big teams,”Hewitson said.

Chris Rigg battling with Leeds United striker Crysencio Summerville (credit: Alamy Images)
Sunderland midfielder Chris Rigg tackling Leeds United striker Crysencio Summerville (credit: Alamy Images)

Born in 2007, the youngster has played across all three North East academies but opted to stay with Sunderland from the age of nine. “I felt really safe and at home and the coaches were brilliant which I thought was good for my development and it has been,” he explained.

Talking about his preferred position, the ambitious teen can operate anywhere across the midfield with Mowbray, Mike Dodds and Michael Beale all taking advantage of his versatility. “I like to do both, tackle and score and give it 110% every time I go out on the pitch. I’d say I can play box-to-box, six or as a ten, and out on the right so anywhere around the midfield, to be honest with you,” Rigg added.

As the limelight started to settle on his first appearance, BOOM! Rigg’s face is plastered across the back of all local newspapers again – Why? Crewe Alexandre away. Rigg’s first senior goal, a 64th-minute equaliser at the Stadium of Light. Fast forward 25 days to September 2, 2023, and he does it again but this time it’s bigger! In front of a bumper crowd, Rigg entered the pitch with Sunderland 4-0 up against promotion favourites Southampton and only 13 minutes left on the clock. As the match entered its final 19 seconds, there he was to cooly head home Jewison Bennette’s cross from the left and write his name into club folklore.

“When I came on, Proc (Michael Proctor) the assistant said go make it five so I was just trying to get in and around the box as he said. I don’t normally score many headers but that one paid off.”

“I’m lost for words when I speak about it, to be honest, it was just a whirlwind of emotions, and my parents were immensely proud of me for getting to that point,” Rigg reminisced.

Hewitson was delighted for Rigg and understands how daunting a full house can be at the Stadium of Light: “I know just seeing that crowd people would potentially crumble so for him at 16 years old to go out and not be flustered shows the grit that he has as a human being.”

After adjusting to his newfound stardom, Rigg admitted he found it tough at first to balance both football and school life but is thankful for the support shown to him by the club, his colleagues, and the supporters. “It was hard when I was in school, to be honest with you, I was struggling to do both, but I found a way and that’s all I needed.”

Speaking about his ambitions for the future Rigg is looking to add to his six starts and make himself a regular fixture in the Black Cats’ starting line-up. “If you had of told me what would happen this season, I would have bit your hand off for it, so hopefully just pushing on. My goal at the start of the season was to get my first Championship start and I have had two on the bounce so hopefully, just carry on the way I am,” Rigg confirmed.

At international level, Rigg has featured 29 times at Under-15,16,17 and 18 level with several of those appearances coming as captain across the various age groups. The midfielder is full of pride when pulling on the Three Lions jersey, adding: “I think the biggest call you can get is to represent your country and captaining the side is even more superior to just playing.”

Chris Rigg celebrates his first league goal against Southampton (credit: Alamy Images)