Jermain Defoe has spoken of his pride after being crowned the North East Football Writers’ Player of the Year.
Defoe’s efforts were recognised at a star-studded event in Durham tonight and he dedicated his award to the Sunderland fanbase.
The 34-year-old’s goals helped Sunderland towards Premier League safety last season and is the leading light again this campaign, with 14 goals as they again battle to beat the drop.
It was a good night for Wearside as England Under-21 international goalkeeper Jordan Pickford collected the Young Player of the Year, while England Ladies skipper Steph Houghton, from South Hetton, was the Women’s Player of the Year.
Defoe has once again been in scintillating form for bottom-of-the-table Sunderland.
And his goal tally is all the more remarkable given the Black Cats’ league position.
Defoe is the 37th winner of the North East writers’ award, and follows former Sunderland strikers Darren Bent, Kevin Phillips, Niall Quinn and Marco Gabbiadini.
Defoe said: “I feel very much at home in the North East, so to win this award is a real honour.
“The fans here are very knowledgeable and so passionate – football is their life and that makes it a great place for any player to play football.
“I would like to thank the North East Football Writers for voting for me and the Sunderland fans for their amazing support.
“They have been behind me from day one and I dedicate this award to them.
“Sunderland is a very special football club that I know will be part of me forever.”
Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson was second in the voting, and Newcastle United captain Jamaal Lascelles third.
Pickford, meanwhile, is back in full training at the Academy of Light after injuring his knee in the Boxing Day defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Sunderland aren’t in action again until they travel to face Everton a week on Saturday and Pickford is expected to back in the squad for that game.
The 22-year-old is looking to dislodge Vito Mannone in goal, with Pickford starring in the first half of the campaign.
He was delighted to pick up his Young Player of the Year gong at the Ramside Hall Hotel, in Durham.
Pickford said: “To play for the club you support is every player’s dream and I am living mine every day.
“I would like to say thank you to the Sunderland Academy staff who started me on my journey, to the backroom staff and everyone at the club who has helped me in my career so far and to my family – without their support and encouragement I wouldn’t have the fantastic opportunities that I have today.”
Other presentations on the night were made to promoted clubs Middlesbrough, Darlington and Spennymoor, and FA Vase winners Morpeth Town.
The night, which raises funds for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, also featured a tribute to former Association chairman, Mail on Sunday writer Bob Cass, who died recently after a battle against cancer.