Sunderland AFC star striker Josh Maja has kicked off Christmas in Fulwell.
Josh, the Black Cats’ leading goalscorer this season, joined Deputy Mayor of Sunderland Coun David Snowdon for the big switch-on ceremony.
Fans turned out in force and the 20-year-old was kept busy for about half an hour posing for pictures with star-struck youngsters.
Fulwell Community Library Choir kicked off the evening, entertaining the crowds with carols before Josh and Coun Snowdon did the honours.
It was a new experience for Lewisham-born Josh, who admitted he was taken aback by the number of people clamouring for autographs and pictures.
“I’m a little bit overwhelmed,” he said.
“I am used to seeing the fans at events, but this is the first thing like this that I have done.
“There are a lot of new faces and people wanting to see me.
“I am just trying to make people happy.”
New SAFC owners Charlie Methven and Stewart Donald have made a conscious effort to rebuild the close links between club and community since their take-over in the summer and Josh is delighted to have the opportunity to play his part in continuing the good work.
“You see a lot of Charlie travelling to the games with the fans, sitting in the stands and celebrating with the supporters,” he said.
“It is really important to keep that connection.”
Fulwell ward member Coun Margaret Beck was one of the organisers of the switch-on and was delighted with the numbers who had come along.
“It is an absolutely fabulous turnout,” she said.
Among those making the most of the chance to get up close and personal with one of his footballing heroes was Charlie McPherson, from Seaburn.
Charlie had brought along a football and was delighted to get it signed.
The nine-year-old plays for Harton and Westoe Kings under-nines and was honest enough to admit that Josh Maja isn’t quite his favourite Sunderland player.
“I am a goalkeeper, so Jon McLaughlin is my favourite,” he said.
“But Josh is my favourite out-field player.
“He was really nice.”
Mum Claire Gowland said it had been a rush to make it up in time for the ceremony.
“This is all Charlie has been talking about,” she said.
“We ran all the way here because we thought we would miss it.”