A star-studded line-up is set to take to the pitch as former Sunderland AFC kitman John Cooke is honoured with a special match at the home of South Shields FC.
Kevin Phillips, Niall Quinn, Ally McCoist, Lee Clark and Peter Beardsley are among those to have committed to the event, which will see a team managed by Cooke take on a side led by ex-Black Cats manager Peter Reid.
The testimonial will recognise Cooke’s remarkable service to Sunderland, who he played for between 1979 and 1985 before serving as kit manager from 1994 to 2020.
It will be held on Sunday, May 29th at 1st Cloud Arena and tickets are sold out.
Cooke said: “I am humbled by the event and wish to thank Peter Reid and (South Shields FC chairman) Geoff Thompson and his team for organising what looks set to be a fantastic day out.
“The response to this event from everyone has been overwhelming and given me a tremendous lift.
“I look forward to celebrating with former players and friends, and thank those who wish to support the event.”
Cooke was a key part of the backroom staff at Sunderland for almost three decades, and is extremely fondly thought of by those he worked alongside, including club legend Niall Quinn.
Quinn said: ”If I have learned one thing in life or football, it is that you need a good dressing room.
“You live or die by the characters in the dressing room.
“Johnny was a larger-than-life component in ours and his impact was far greater than that of a kitman.
“He was the very fabric of the best dressing room I was ever involved in.
“Later as chairman, I knew the dressing room was fine with Johnny around.”
Reid’s Sunderland side – featuring Quinn and newly-appointed South Shields manager Phillips – took the Premier League by storm, twice finishing seventh in the top flight.
Cooke has been highlighted as playing an important part behind the scenes in ensuring the dressing room harmony was maintained.
Reid said: ”Cookie’s strengths were his personality and his humour, but I have to say his pace wasn’t his best attribute as a player or kitman!
“The support and feedback from ex-players has been amazing, including the black and whites.
“I would also like to thank Geoff and South Shields Football Club for their full support to this event.”
Former Sunderland players spanning several eras including Kevin Ball, Michael Gray, Alex Rae, John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Gary Bennett, Gordon Chisholm, Ian Atkins, Kevin Arnott and Gary Rowell are all set to take part, with more names due to be announced, including ex-managers, local celebrities and several former Newcastle United players.
Match commentary at the game will be provided over the Tannoy system by Nick Barnes, of BBC Radio Newcastle.
The stellar cast list also includes boxing legend Frank Bruno, who will attempt to bring some order to proceedings by serving as the video assistant referee and co-commentator.
South Shields FC players are due to make an appearance, too, while club chairman Thompson will swap the boardroom for the pitch for a cameo stint as a player.
The football feast will begin at 11am, when supporters will get the chance to take part in a free football coaching session known as You Know The Drill, with the bars to be opened at the same time.
Players from South Tyneside Ability FC – which provides disabled football coaching for children, adults, ladies and the visually impaired – will entertain the crowd with an exhibition game from 1pm as the build-up to the big kick-off continues.
At 1.45pm, members of Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup-winning squad will be introduced to the crowd to begin a year of celebrations which will culminate in the 50-year anniversary of their famous triumph, and then the match will begin at 2pm.
An after-match party with a live band – free to all ticket holders – will start at 4pm to kick-off an evening of entertainment.
A souvenir programme will also provide match-goers also a number for a free entry into a raffle. Prizes will include framed signed shirts of Jordan Henderson, Jordan Pickford, Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson, several Sunderland players and others. Programmes are to be priced at £5.