AN argument about the identity of the North-East’s greatest ever sportsperson is always going to be subjective.

Jack and Bobby Charlton are World Cup winners, but I would argue that the fact they spent the whole of their club careers outside their home region seriously reduces the extent of their impact on North-East sport.

Paul Gascoigne is probably the most naturally-talented sportsperson ever produced in the North-East, but his greatest moments also came outside the region and it is debatable whether he truly made the most of his ability.

Is Paul Collingwood the North-East's greatest ever sportsperson?

Is Paul Collingwood the North-East's greatest ever sportsperson?

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Brendan Foster has transformed North-East sport via the Great North Run, but his achievements on the track were good rather than great. Tanni-Grey Thompson’s successes were truly ground-breaking, but she was born in Cardiff and represented Wales.

To me, three people stand head and shoulders above the rest. Alan Shearer has to figure prominently on any shortlist through weight of goals alone. The Premier League’s leading goalscorer also heads Newcastle United’s all-time list. He tops the North-East’s footballing pile.

Steve Cram can also claim to be the greatest ever. Honed in the less-than-salubrious surrounds of Jarrow’s Monkton Stadium, Cram went on to win a World title and an Olympic silver medal, with his greatest moment coming as he set three World records in the space of 19 remarkable days in 1985.

After he announced his retirement from all forms of cricket this morning, though, I would argue that Paul Collingwood hangs up his pads as the North-East’s number one. Through a combination of achievement, longevity, leadership and doing what no one else had done, Collingwood has elevated himself to the very top of the region’s sporting pantheon. Locally, nationally and internationally, he has made the North-East proud for more than two decades.

Take the bare achievements for a start. Collingwood retires having amassed 16,844 first-class runs and 164 wickets over a period of 304 matches. There were a further 11,240 runs in List A games, along with a staggering 558 catches over all forms of the domestic game.

For England, Collingwood played in 68 Tests, averaging more than 40 with the bat, 197 One-Day Internationals and 36 T20s. He is a three-time Ashes winner, who scored an unforgettable double-century during the 2006-07 Ashes series on Australian soil, and became the first England captain to enjoy success at a global tournament when he skippered his side to victory in the World Twenty20 in 2010.

By his own admission, he was never the most naturally-talented of players, and Geoff Cook has conceded that Collingwood rarely stood out as he progressed through Durham’s youth ranks. But like Alastair Cook, whose retirement from international cricket as England’s leading run scorer earlier this week provides a neat bit of symmetry, he maximised every last ounce of ability to enjoy success at the very highest level.

A formidable work ethic was allied to a ferocious will to win, and the result was a supreme sporting competitor, the kind of player that anyone would be desperate to have in their side. It took a long time for Collingwood to break into the international scene, and when he did, he was initially pigeon-holed as a one-day specialist capable of filling a gap in the middle of the order.

That changed in Nagpur in the winter of 2005, when Collingwood’s maiden Test century enabled England to overcome a major injury crisis, and by the time the next Ashes tour came around, he was regarded as one of the bedrocks of the team. He would retain that role until his retirement from the international game in late 2010.

To Collingwood, though, England has only ever been half of the story. He is known as ‘Mr Durham’ for a reason, and while there are plenty of people that have played an integral role in the county’s success as a first-class side, Collingwood is the personification of Durham’s remarkable rise. When Durham’s forefathers talked of creating an environment that would enable North-East youngsters to flourish on home soil, they had someone like Collingwood in mind. Never in their wildest dreams, however, could they have imagined a Durham player climbing so high or so quickly.

It seems barely imaginable given everything that has happened during Durham’s topsy-turvy first-class existence, but Collingwood was there from the start. He was involved in the county’s junior set-up when they took their first steps in the County Championship, combining youth cricket with countless hours of training at Shotley Bridge, and has played in 23 of Durham’s 26 seasons as a professional entity.

The first few of those seasons were extremely tough, but Collingwood proved what was possible as he forced his way into the international picture. He was the first Durham player to score a Test century, and then, on a day that remains a career highlight, he became the first Durham player to score an international hundred at Riverside when he put the West Indian attack to the sword in 2007.

Those days in the late-2000s were Collingwood’s greatest, but his success was not confined to the international picture. Despite his England commitments, he was a key part of the Durham teams that won the County Championship in 2008 and 2009, and took three wickets in the final as Durham beat Hampshire to claim the Friends Provident Trophy at Lord’s in 2007.

For all that he achieved internationally, he still regards those successes as three of his greatest triumphs, and while it would have been easy for him to call time on his career when he retired from the England set-up eight years ago, he sensed an opportunity to make more history with Durham.

With Collingwood as skipper, Durham reclaimed the County Championship title in 2013 and won the Royal London One-Day Cup the following season. Again, Collingwood was at the heart of both triumphs.

The last couple of seasons have been much tougher, with Durham’s much-publicised financial problems transforming the landscape at Riverside, but Collingwood has continued to provide the kind of leadership and reliability that has enabled the county to get back on an even keel. It is extremely unlikely that things would have been as stable without him.

Last season saw Collingwood pick up three trophies at Durham’s end-of-season awards, and in truth, that would probably have been the ideal time to retire. His playing days have probably gone on 12 months too long, but he was never going to desert his beloved home side when they were still in an hour of need.

By continuing to play, Collingwood was able to cherish a golden moment this season when Durham unveiled the Paul Collingwood Pavilion. It was a fitting tribute to not only a cricketing great, but also the greatest North-East sportsperson of all time.