Jordan Henderson is relishing playing for his country at the Stadium of Light – having been a ball boy the last time England played on Wearside.
The former Sunderland midfielder is in line to start tonight’s friendly against Australia.
Henderson was ball boy for the 2003 Euro qualifier between England and Turkey at the Stadium of Light.
And the Liverpool captain,25, is hoping for a repeat of the atmosphere that night in what is the penultimate warm-up game for Roy Hodgson’s side ahead of Euro 2016.
“It means a lot to the people here that England will be playing in the North East,” said Henderson.
“The people here are very passionate about their football.
“The atmosphere in the last game here against Turkey was very good, and we got a good result too.
“I was ball boy for the game, but I can’t remember much about it. The atmosphere was brilliant, though – I can remember that. Hopefully it will be the same again.”
Henderson – who came off the bench against Turkey at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday – returned from a knee injury on the final day of the Premier League season.
There were fears that the problem would see him ruled out of Euro 2016, but Henderson – who left Sunderland five years ago – is feels he is getting sharper with every minute he has on the pitch.
Asked about his fitness, he said: “I’m still improving.
“I feel I’ve trained well this week, and I feel good. Hopefully, I will get more minutes to get my match sharpness back.
“I’m hoping to be on the plane for the first game of the Euros.
“I feel ready and if I do get the chance to play, I just want to make sure I do everything I’ve done before.”
England toured the country while Wembley was getting rebuilt, and coach Roy Hodgson is happy that his team has had a chance to play in the regions ahead of Euro 2016, which is being staged in France.
“We’re very happy to play England games around the country,” said Hodgson, whose side complete their preparations with a friendly against Portugal at Wembley next Thursday.
“But the English FA owns Wembley, and therefore it’s the home of the FA and its team.
“We’ve very happy to take the team to Manchester and now Sunderland, and it’s great we have had the opportunity to do that.
“I’m very grateful to the FA, who really quite easily could have said ‘no’, but they’ve actually accepted the idea.
“I thought the Manchester side of things went well, and I’m sure it will be the same in Sunderland.
“You can’t get three better preparation games and three better send-offs than we’ll get at Manchester, Sunderland and Wembley.”
Hodgson – who hands a start to Southampton’s former Newcastle United goalkeeper Fraser Forster – is close to finalising his team for Euro 2016.
“Preparation games are for me to get as much clarity as I can get,” said the 68-year-old, whose side have been drawn against Russia, Wales and Slovakia.
“I’ve always had in my mind to use this game as something sandwiched between the other two to rest players who have played a lot of football, or those who are definitely in my plans.”
With Henderson’s Liverpool team-mate Daniel Sturridge struggling with a calf injury, Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford is set to start against Australia.
“He’ll be disappointed,” said Henderson. “Obviously he’ll want to be playing some part in the next couple of games before the tournament.
“He has just got to make sure he is doing everything he can to get fit. I am sure he will be and hopefully he can be involved in this game, if not the game after that and play some part and show he is ready to go to the Euros.”
Uncapped Marcus Rashford will start if Sturridge misses out.
Henderson commented: “He is a great player with a lot of potential, but, at the same time, we’ve got to keep his feet on the floor and keep working hard, keep doing the things that he has done to get himself thered.
“I am sure if he does that, we’ll have a very, very big player on our hands.”
Henderson is a contender to captain England at the Stadium of Light.
Skipper Wayne Rooney will be on the bench.
Asked about the likelihood of Henderson wearing the armband, Hodgson said: “You will find out.
“Jordan is here (at his Press conference), because he is a Sunderland boy.
“He goes back to the last game played at the Stadium of Light (when he was a ball boy).
“He is coming back from injury. He has a lot of experience of England level with a lot of caps.
“It could well be Jordan who leads the team out, but it could be someone else as well.”
Tonight’s match kicks off at 7.45pm and is a sell-out.