Sunderland players, old and new, were part of celebrations marking the opening of the city's new multimillion pound sporting hubs.

Black Cats greats Jimmy Montgomery and Gary Bennett were joined by current first team players Duncan Watmore and Alim Öztürk to tour the hubs that have been developed as part of an £18m project to transform sporting facilities across the city.

The three sites are located at Northern Area Playing Fields Washington, Downhill and Ford Quarry, with demand already breaking Football Foundation records.

The Washington hub, which has been in operation since November 2019, has already attracted 16,000 sign-ups, making it the most sought-after facility of its kind in England.

Investment into the three hubs has seen the creation of 10 full-size third generation (3G) artificial grass pitches (AGPs), as well as new and refurbished buildings at each site, fitted with changing rooms, café areas, and social and education spaces. The Downhill hub also features a 60-station gym.

Black Cats great Jimmy Montgomery saving a penalty

The new facilities were funded through £13m of investment from the Premier League, The Football Association and Government's Football Foundation, with Sunderland City Council also contributing £3.8m.

The local authority says the £18m investment is the biggest ever investment into a portfolio of grassroots sporting facilities in the North East.

Sunderland AFC striker and Football Foundation ambassador, Duncan Watmore, said: “The sheer scale of this project is pretty unbelievable, really. Sunderland is a city with a really rich footballing history and with a project as big as this, it’s only going to get richer.

“Looking around, the facilities on offer are just brilliant and cater to so many different needs within the local community.

"I’m actually slightly jealous because growing up, I very rarely had the opportunity to use facilities as good as these and it’s difficult to put into words just what a difference this will make.

“From a personal perspective, I just love playing football and it’s had such a profound impact on me both physically and mentally.

"It’s brilliant to know that, with investment from the Football Foundation, there are thousands of people who will be able to experience these same benefits over the coming years.”

The hubs will also play a key role in hosting one of the largest grassroots football leagues in the country, the Russell Foster Youth League.

The league was created in 1975 and its professional footballing graduates include England internationals Jordan Pickford and Jordan Henderson, Blackburn Rovers’ Stewart Downing and Danny Graham and Sunderland great, Michael Gray.

Youngsters at the official opening of the new Downhill Hub in Sunderland

The Washington hub has been used for more than 750 junior and adult matches, while accommodating an average of 105 training sessions every week.

The Football Foundation has also invested in 375 grassroots football projects, worth £72m across the Durham FA region since 2000, with the aim of improving the experience for regular players as well as attracting new players to the game.

It is the start of the Football Foundation's plans for investment in the city.

The Foundation has developed a Local Football Facility Plan for the city, identifying the investment that is most needed to improve the quality of football and sports facilities for people living in Sunderland.

Councillor Graeme Miller, who is leader of Sunderland City Council, said it is a hugely exciting time for community football in the city.

He added: "Thanks to the £18m investment in the development of our fantastic community football hubs, Sunderland now has some of the best, if not the best, 3G pitches and community football facilities in the country.

“You only have to look at the success of Washington Football Hub, which has seen 720 games played and 16,000 sign-ups since it opened in November to see how tremendously popular these facilities are, catering for everyone from the Under-7s to people in their 70s playing walking football.

“I’m delighted that working with our partners in the Premier League, The FA and Government’s Football Foundation, we have been able to play our part in making this happen.”