What a week it was for former Sunderland footballer and anti-racism activist Gary Bennett.
Not only was the Wearside legend recognised by Royalty when he collected his MBE for services to anti-racism in football on Tuesday – he’s also heading to the top of the class thanks to the University of Sunderland.
On Thursday Gary will make a triumphant return to the Stadium of Light – but this time off the pitch – to collect an Honorary Degree from the University.
Every year the University confers Honorary Awards to distinguished people in recognition of their outstanding achievements.
Gary’s playing career spanned four decades. From 1979 to 2002, he made more than 600 appearances in the football league for Manchester City, Cardiff City, Carlisle United, Scarborough, Darlington, Worksop Town, and of course Sunderland.
A true local legend Gary made 443 appearances for Sunderland Football Club between 1984 and 1995. Gary became only the second black player to play for Sunderland. He went on to appear in the 1985 Football League Final, and the 1992 FA Cup Final.
Since then, he has worked as a coach and manager, and for the last 18 years he has worked with the University giving invaluable advice to their men and women’s student football teams.
While still playing for Sunderland Gary joined the Show Racism the Red Card campaign. It was a decision that would change the course of his life.
He says: “It was an idea that came from the North East – actually from a Newcastle supporter – and at the start only half a dozen people were involved. Now we have offices in England, Wales, Scotland, and we’re known all over Europe. Half a million people took part in Wear Red Day this year.
“And Sunderland is a very different place too. It’s a diverse and welcoming city now. But racism is still a problem everywhere, and we’ve got to continue to educate ourselves and others.”
Gary Bennett MBE received an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from the University of Sunderland in recognition of his outstanding achievements as a footballer, coach and anti-racism advocate.
Hundreds of students were graduating at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week as the University’s winter Academic Awards took place.