Deputy Leader of Sunderland City Council pays tribute to Freedom of the City recipients Jill Scott, Steph Houghton and Gary Bennett

Written by on 9th March 2023

Coun Claire Rowntree paid tribute among many to Freedom of the City of Sunderland owners Jill Scott, Steph Houghton and Gary Bennett after the honour was formally bestowed upon them on Wednesday (March 8).

The trio were written into Sunderland history at the City Hall when councillors approved the motion they had proposed back in October to grant them the largely-ceremonial privilege.

Rowntree was more than delighted to support the move. She said: “I wanted to wholeheartedly endorse the proposal that alongside Jill, they [Houghton and Bennett] are made Freemen of the City, and highlight the shining examples they both set in working and campaigning for equality, and equality of opportunity.”

She went into greater detail on the impact Bennett has had “both on and off the pitch.”

Rowntree continued: “While Gary was doing great things on the pitch, entertaining crowds up and down the land week-in, week-out, he was sadly and shamefully subjected to racial abuse.

“Being the person he is, he was determined not to ignore it, or tolerate it, but to work to challenge it and to change behaviours for the benefit of future generation footballers.

“And, so bravely, using his own experiences of racism to help educate others in combatting it, Gary’s unwavering support for more than 25 years has been central to establishing and building Show Racism The Red Card, whose work is so essential – not only to football and sport – but to society.”

Houghton was among the three bestowed upon with the honour, and Coun Rowntree did not stop short of praise when describing the former England captain.

“Turning to Steph,” she added, “she has also been an exceptional role model for the women and girls as the Leader said earlier, ‘a true pioneer of the women’s game.’

“We need to only look back a year to the Lionesses success in winning the Euros to see how far the women’s game has come, and what they are capable of achieving.

“But it’s been a long time coming and the platform and recognition they now have has been hard-won.

“The talent has always been there – as we heard Steph was just nine years old when she was spotted – but the opportunities in women’s football, perhaps not so much and Steph, alongside Jill, has been absolutely instrumental in changing the game and levelling the playing field (if you’ll pardon the pun).”

Leader of Sunderland City Council, Coun Graeme Miller, also spoke of his delight after the event.

Proceedings were livestreamed and can be viewed here.

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