Each year, the North East Football Writers’ Association name their Personality of the Year, a prestigious award given in association with our Foundation at a black-tie awards night in Durham.

Gary (left) with Colin Young and BBC’s Nick Barnes

Recognising someone who uses their position in football to benefit the wider community, this year’s choice is one of the North East’s most well-loved footballers and passionate anti-racism activist, Gary Bennett.

As a player, Gary was a tough, uncompromising centre-half who made more than 400 appearances as he became a firm fans’ favourite with Sunderland.

As a pundit with BBC Radio Newcastle, ‘Benno’ has become an integral part of the North-East media scene, informing and entertaining while discussing his beloved Black Cats.

And as a campaigner, acting as a national figurehead for Show Racism The Red Card, he has helped transform the face of football in this country, resulting in him being awarded the MBE in the 2022 New Year’s Honours list. Rarely can an honour have been so richly deserved or warmly received.

Bennett’s playing career saw him spend 11 seasons with Sunderland after joining the club from Cardiff City in 1984. He played in the Milk Cup final in his first season on Wearside, and was also part of the side that played in the FA Cup final at Wembley in 1992. After leaving Sunderland in the mid-1990s, he also spent time with Carlisle United, Scarborough and Darlington.

He managed at Darlington after his playing days came to an end, and also spent time coaching in Middlesbrough’s academy before his media work began to dominate his time. Even today, he still coaches at the University of Sunderland.

He has been a popular part of the BBC Newcastle team for more than a decade, following Sunderland home and away as part of a dream double act with commentator Nick Barnes.

He still finds time to champion anti-racism though, and has been a patron of Show Racism The Red Card for more than 25 years. He has also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Sunderland to recognise his campaigning work.

Gary says: “I got involved because I believe in what we are doing. I’ve suffered, and I want to raise awareness, not only in sport but in society. Racism can happen to anyone of any skin colour, religion, culture, if you are a minority, it is likely you will suffer from some form of racism.”

Gary will receive his award this Sunday (3 March) at the North East Football Writers’ Association Awards night, sponsored by William Hill, which celebrates the best of North East football and is held annually at the Ramside Hall Hotel in Durham. The event will, once again, raise funds for our Foundation.

Colin Young, Secretary of the North East Football Writers’ Association, says: “This is a very important award for our Association and the choice of recipient is always given a lot of consideration.

“Gary is someone we all like as a person and a pundit but he’s also someone who suffered racist abuse as a player. His determination to stop the racism directed from some so called supporters became part of a much wider picture and he’s made a positive impact across society as a whole.

“We’re hugely proud that he’ll be receiving this year’s North East Football Writers’ Association Personality of the Year with the full backing of The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.”

The North East Football Writers’ Association Awards are voted for by football writers across the region and reflect achievements in the 2022/2023 season.

Other recipients this year include Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Men’s Player of the Year, Sarah Robson (Durham Women FC), Women’s Player of the Year, Hayden Hackney (Middlesbrough FC) Young Men’s Player of the Year and Katy Watson (Sunderland AFC), Young Women’s Player of the Year.

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

• Jill Scott
• Chris Kamara
• Luke O’Nien
• Steph Houghton
• Alan Shearer
• Jermain Defoe
• Steve Harper
• Robbie Elliott
• Niall Quinn