Anti-racism campaigner and Sunderland legend Gary Bennett has hailed the people of Sunderland for helping his achieve his ambitions as he was awarded Freedom of the City of Sunderland.
Bennett, as well as Lionesses Jill Scott and Steph Houghton, were awarded the title at Sunderland City Hall on Wednesday night and SportsByte was fortunate enough to have a few moments to ask Bennett how the experience went.
“How am I feeling? Overwhelmed,” Bennett said. “It’s been a fantastic evening, especially the speeches as well. You don’t realise how much you’ve grown the city of Sunderland and the sport as well.”
Attendees Houghton and Bennett are pioneers in different ways, one leading the way as the women’s game continues to grow off the back of the Lionesses’ success last summer, while another guides football down a safer path in light of racism.
Still though, Bennett feels as if “hard work” was the reason he overcame life’s obstacles.
He added: “I’ve not really had to overcome or get over anything, I think it’s down to hard work really. There’s always going to be obstacles in the way and there’s always going to be challenges.
“Again if you could get the support which I did get coming from supporters of Sunderland, and the people of Sunderland as well, have made me achieve what I have achieved in life.”
Bennett was given the accolade at a poignant time for Show Racism The Red Card, of whom he is the longest-serving patron, as the organisation has just reached out to its one-millionth person.
“I think it’s a fantastic achievement,” he continued. “And what makes it so special is that it was started in the north east and has grown from strength-to-strength.
“Again, we’ve been talking about the support of the north east in general, and we’ve to be amongst it to maybe understand that it’s very passionate but also very welcoming as well.
“They’re the ones who have got right behind us.” Bennett concluded.