Sunderland AFC’s Luke O’Nien has been named the North East Football Writers’ Association Personality of the Year, an award given in association with our Foundation to recognise someone who uses their position in football to benefit the wider community.

Luke O’Nien with a picture drawn by Ethan Adams

Luke was the stand out name to receive the honour this year after he raised more than £7,000 for NHS Charities Together and helped keep Sunderland supporters active during lockdown by delivering daily fitness sessions via YouTube.

Lady Elsie says: “We know these lockdowns are necessary but they’re also challenging for us all and any little thing that can help lift spirits is to be welcomed.

“Luke’s obviously recognised that and not only given up his time to help Sunderland fans get active and feel more positive, but also raised an amazing amount of money for NHS Charities Together. It’s a really magnificent achievement.

“I’m extremely pleased Luke is receiving the North East Football Writers’ Association Personality of the Year Award, and very proud that this award is given in association with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. And I’m absolutely sure Bob would feel just the same.”

The popular annual North East Football Writers’ Association’s Awards night has been postponed because of Covid and the traditional Personality of the Year Award, a beautiful glass trophy made by Kalki Mansel at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, is also delayed for the same reason.

Ethan Adams from South Shields

However, Luke was thrilled to receive a fantastic picture of himself doing the workouts, which was drawn by eight-year-old, Ethan Adams, who plays football for Harton and Westoe Hurricanes.

The young Sunderland fan from South Shields has a rare cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma, and is receiving treatment at the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle, where he is also being supported by two projects funded through the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

Luke is following in the footsteps of England legend, Steph Houghton, who received the North East Personality of the Year trophy last year.

Luke says: “I feel very humbled and very privileged to receive this award, particularly because there are so many people out there who have done far more than I have over the last year or so.

“During the first lockdown we could see NHS workers putting their lives on the line to save other people and the only way most of us could really contribute was by listening to their advice and staying at home.

“After a little while, staying at home became a challenge in itself. It was a tough time for a lot of people. The idea behind the YouTube videos originally came about because Georgia, my fiancé, has a little brother, Ethan, who had energy to burn and we were trying to find ways to tire him out! Then we thought it would be great if other people wanted to join in and raise money for the NHS at the same time.

“The response we got was amazing. We had a little target and we smashed it. Ethan was the star of the show really! But it just shows what you can do when everybody pulls together.

“Ever since I’ve come up to Sunderland, I’ve been blown away by the spirit and generosity of people in the North East. This makes me feel very honoured and it really means a lot. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Last year’s winner, Steph Houghton

The North East Football Writers’ Association Awards are voted for by football writers across the region. Other recipients this year include Middlesbrough’s Jonny Howson and Marcus Tavernier who were voted Men’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year, and Durham Women FC’s Beth Hepple, who won Women’s Player of the Year.

Colin Young, Secretary of the North East Football Writers’ Association, says: “Every year, these awards are our way of showing appreciation and celebrating the best of football in this region.

“The way Luke responded to the pandemic by doing something positive, both for the people getting active doing the workouts and raising money for an NHS charity, is absolutely something to celebrate. He’s done his club proud and is hugely deserving of this honour.”

The previous winners of the North East Personality of the Year trophy, in association with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, are:

• Steph Houghton
• Alan Shearer
• Jermain Defoe
• Steve Harper
• Robbie Elliott
• Niall Quinn