FORMER Sunderland AFC star Michael Gray will be pounding the pavement in Sunderland to help city youngsters.
The 36-year-old former Black Cats and England defender hung up his football boots last year, but is pulling on his trainers to raise funds for the SAFC Foundation.
Michael, who now works as a football pundit, is limbering up to take part in the Sunderland City 10K, the Great North Run and the Great Manchester Run in aid of the charity which harnesses the power of the beautiful game to boost learning and educational opportunities.
The local hero, who is originally from Castletown, said: “I used to do fund-raising for a children’s hospital in Sheffield, but, being from Sunderland, I thought it would be nice do something for the SAFC Foundation.
“The club has helped me for x amount of years, so I think it’s good to give something back.”
Michael made more than 300 appearances for his home club before stints at Celtic, Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday.
Speaking about the work of the SAFC Foundation, which last year worked with 40,000 young people and families in the region, he said: “There are a big batch of children in the city interested in football so if you can use that as a starting block to get them interested in other things it’s a fantastic avenue to go down.”
The Sunderland 10K, which replaces the Bupa Great North 10K, was launched by Olympian Steve Cram earlier this month.
Sponsored by redspottedhanky.com, it will take place on Sunday, June 26, and is expected to see thousands of elite and fun runners take to city streets.
The route starts at the Stadium of Light and goes south over the Wearmouth Bridge, before taking in Sunderland city centre, the National Glass Centre and Sunderland Marina before returning to the home of the Black Cats.
Michael, who now lives in Manchester, said: “I started the race last year and I promised I would run it this year.
“I always love coming back home and seeing friends and family. Hopefully, people will get behind this run, which is a great thing for the city.”
The sportsman is now in training for his trio of races, the first of which, the Great Manchester Run, takes place on May 15.
Dawn Day, SAFC Foundation community fund-raiser co-ordinator, said: “Here at SAFC Foundation we are incredibly grateful for Michael Gray’s fund-raising efforts.
“It’s admirable for such a high profile former Sunderland player to keep giving back to the community that supported him from within the stadium and the money that he raises will be used to make a real difference to lives in the region.”
You can sponsor Michael at www.justgiving.com/michaelgray
For more information and to register for the race, call 525 5747 or visit www.sunderlandcity10k.com