Former Black Cats chairman Niall Quinn has spoken of his pride after being handed the Freedom of Sunderland.
The ex-footballer was presented with a scroll and a key to the city at a council meeting at Sunderland Civic Centre last night.
The Freedom honour is handed to those who have made an outstanding contribution to the city.
The 46-year-old former Irish international said: “It has been an incredible time from the moment I first came up.
“My children were reared here, they are still really strong Mackem, Sunderland fans
“It will always be a special place for me, a place which meant more to me than anywhere in my career.”
The city council chose to honour him for his work on and off the pitch, with Quinn seen as someone who has championed Wearside. He has also devoted his time to charities in the area.
Not only was Quinn chairman of SAFC, he was also a striker for the club and manager for a short period.
After leaving his role as chairman, Quinn became the club’s head of international development. He left the Stadium of Light last year.
He remains an extremely popular figure in Sunderland, and was this week photographed in a city centre pub celebrating the victory over Manchester City with fans.
He also donated all the proceeds from his testimonial game to charities including children’s hospitals in Sunderland, Dublin and India.
“It’s been a terrific journey and to get an award like this at the end feels very special,” he said.
“I do feel proud. It’s a very emotional time for my family and I.”
Joel Batteux, the mayor of the city’s twin town St Nazaire in western France, was honoured alongside Quinn.
Coun Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Here are two notable individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Sunderland and life in our city.
“These freedoms formally seal the relationships between the nominees and the City of Sunderland and recognise their contributions to the well being and community spirit of the city.”
Quinn also used his speech at the Civic Centre to pay tribute to the Sunderland team after its win over Manchester City at home and called Paolo Di Canio’s reign “a debacle”.
He said: “You cannot predict football. If anybody said, outside Sunderland, that they were going to beat Manchester City 1-0 again, you would have laughed.”
He added while he felt strongly that Martin O’Neill was the right man for the manager’s job, he was optimistic new boss Gus Poyet can save the team from relegation.
He said: “I don’t know Gus Poyet but I think if I had been at the club I don’t think Gus Poyet would have hit my radar as strong as it did Ellis Short.
“From the outside looking in I really like what I see. I am more than pleasantly surprised.
“He has a real thirst and vitality that he wants to make this work. It’s very important that he is buying into the region, like I did all those years ago. I like that.
“But I also like the way he has a team who are down at the bottom of the league, supposedly doomed to relegation, all the fears in the world should be there, and they played some beautiful football against Manchester City.”