NIALL Quinn declared himself “humbled and honoured” to be made an honorary freeman of Sunderland last night.
The former Black Cats player, manager and chairman was given the honour at the city’s civic centre to mark his 17-year association with Wearside.
“This city is unique,” said Quinn, at the ceremony with wife Gillian.
“There’s an atmosphere in the city, and there’s something in the people that helps them overcome the true test. It’s a wonderful place. I’m humbled by it all.
“I had a great time being here in Sunderland and to get this is amazing.
“When I played here, I brought my family up with me, and I was on the phone to my son last night and he was talking about ‘his team’ beating Manchester City the other day.”
Quinn, 47, added: “When I took the phone call to say I was being offered it, there was a mad few minutes before I decided I would accept.
“If it means I can promote the city in any way, I will be happy to, so it was almost my duty to accept.
“I might be allowed to run sheep across the Wearmouth Bridge, but, seriously, we might be able to do something charitable in the future, so that’s something we are looking at.”
Also being granted a freedom of the city honour last night was Joel Batteux, mayor of Sunderland’s French twin city, St Nazaire in France.
Monsieur Batteux said: “I’m delighted and very surprised to receive this.
“It’s a very rare distinction that Sunderland are bestowing upon me.
Monsieur Batteux’s ties to Wearside stretch back almost six decades, having taken part in an exchange visit to Sunderland when he was a teenager in the late 1950s, spending a week at Bede School.
“My first contact with Sunderland was 58 years ago, but I was first involved with the city in an official capacity 37 years ago when I was elected to the St Nazaire council.
“Both places are hard-working cities and have overcome the crisises that they have known.
“They never give in.”
NIALL Quinn first signed for Sunderland in 1996 and went on to form a lethal partnership with fellow striker Kevin Phillips.
After retirement, the Irishman returned to the Stadium of Light in 2006 as he brokered a deal for a consortium of businessmen called Drumaville to buy the club.
Quinn was chairman of the Black Cats until current owner Ellis Short bought a majority stake in Sunderland, and he officially left the club in 2012.