The North East’s thriving non-league scene landed yet another coup recently, with former Sunderland striker Stephen Elliott agreeing to join Northern League Division One high-flyers Morpeth Town.
Elliott has become the latest former Black Cats player to turn up in the Northern League, following in the footsteps of South Shields captain Julio Arca and former defender Pascal Chimbonda, who recently signed for Washington.
Elliott, who was capped nine times by the Republic of Ireland during his professional career, revealed it was an easy decision to make after a tip off from another former Sunderland and Ireland man.
He said: “It came about early on this season.
“I was speaking with former Sunderland player Tommy Butler (who is still based in Sunderland) at the pre-season Celtic game. I told him that my family and I would be moving back to the area and that I’d be interested in playing on for a few more years.
“He put me in contact with the Morpeth chairman Ken Beattie, who I spoke to at length about the club and its ambitions. He had a warmness about him and his passion for the club spilled out of him.
“I got a good feel for it and just thought ‘yeah, I’d like to go in and work with them’. The travelling isn’t too far and it’s a decent standard.
“I’m looking forward to just getting in and helping them continue their good start to the season.”
Like Arca, Elliott – who scored 22 goals in 81 appearances – retains a close affinity to the region and has even passed on a love of all things red and white to his children.
“It’s been over a decade since I played for Sunderland but I still hold huge warmth for the club,” he said.
“I enjoyed some good successes at the club including two Championship winners medals.
“ I’ve so many personal so many highlights, from scoring the goal against West Ham that won us the league in my first season to scoring in the derby, even though we unfortunately lost that game.
“I really enjoyed my time there playing and to be honest I’ve been back to the city very regularly to visit family due to my wife Alexa being from the area.
“I’ve tried to get to the games when I can and all my kids are keen Sunderland supporters.”
Elliott has followed the ailing fortunes of the club with keen interest in recent years but like many, thinks the Black Cats may have struck gold with the appointment of former Wales boss Chris Coleman as their manager.
“I think the appointment of Chris Coleman is a huge coup for the club considering the predicament it finds itself in at the current moment,” he said.
“He is a guy who is used to big players. I feel in time he will prove to be the correct man for the job.
“He has a big presence about him and a good style of playing.
“I think he will get the team winning again which will ultimately get the team pushing back up the table,” he added.
“The club is crying out for a hero and hopefully he can be that guy who puts bums back on the seats and get the city thriving again.
“When Sunderland are doing well there is no better place to be living in the UK.”