WHEN Phil Parkinson was expected at a morning unveiling to be confirmed as Huddersfield Town’s new manager 12 years ago, he cancelled just over an hour before it was due to start. That day he decided he wanted to stay on as Charlton boss instead, there was no such drama on Wearside yesterday afternoon.

Born in Chorley and raised in Stockton-on-Tees before heading south after leaving school to begin his football career with Southampton in the early 80s, Parkinson was delighted to be back in the North-East yesterday; an area where his love for the sport really took off.

After a playing career that took him to Southampton, Bury and Reading, and managerial stints with Colchester, Hull, Charlton, Bradford and Bolton, the 51-year-old has finally got the chance to experience what it is like to work in the area where it all began.

This was an opportunity he didn’t need to think twice about. Since leaving Bolton behind, where he enjoyed relative success during extremely difficult circumstances, he has had his time out and waited for the right offer to come along.

Sunderland, having gone through the interview process, was exactly what he wanted, and is aware of what is expected of him too – in the city where he could easily have arrived sooner had things turned out differently in his schoolboy days at Our Lady and St Bede’s on Teesside.

“I was brought up in Stockton-on-Tees despite my accent,” said Parkinson, smiling when his childhood was brought up as a break from the questions about Sunderland’s targets, ambitions and intentions.

“I am fully aware of the passion for North-East football. I came to see Sunderland at times, Middlesbrough as well. I loved the passion because it is different up here. People absolutely live for their football and I get what this club means to the city of Sunderland.

“In the year we stayed up at Bolton, and Sunderland went down (2017-18), I think we came here and drew 3-3. That was the night when Simon Grayson left. When Chris Coleman was in charge, we won a tight game 1-0 too. That was a typical example of getting over the dividing line between drawing and winning, a classic example.”

When he was at secondary school and turning out in the Sunday League for St Patrick’s, it was then when the teenage, and shining, midfielder was targeted by numerous clubs, including Sunderland.

“The only game I talked about today with everyone that I went to was when I was a kid and came up to Sunderland,” said Parkinson, after taking his first training sessions. “I was invited up by then manager Ken Knighton.

“It was to watch Sunderland versus Luton and John Cooke scored the winning goal – he is now the kit man. I have bumped into him a few times since and told him that story before. I was 13-14 at the time and was invited up as a boy to have talks, as you do as a schoolboy. It was an amazing day. John Cooke was the hero of the day.

“When I was a kid based in the North-East you would go to train at a lot of clubs. I lived down south a lot before I moved up north and then went back down south for my football career. I already had a southern accent. When I moved up north people called me a southerner and when I moved down south I was called a northerner. I just say I am English.”

Knowing what the area is like certainly helped persuade him to push to succeed Jack Ross. He had a first meeting with the club’s recruitment team on Friday before then meeting for a second interview on Monday, when he suddenly emerged as the leading candidate.

He inherits a team sitting four points off second placed Wycombe ahead of the trip to Adams Park tomorrow.

Sunderland are a further four shy of leaders Ipswich. Parkinson has been left clear that an automatic promotion spot is the target at the end of the season.

And he feels well placed to know what Sunderland fans want to see from his team, and his assistant Steve Parkin – a friend of Sam Allardyce’s – will be helping as they look to guide Sunderland back to the Championship.

Parkinson said: “This is an attractive job and why people want to become Sunderland manager. The club is stronger off the pitch than it has been for a while and on the pitch, there are some very good players.

“I think it’s a good time to take the job, I really do. I don’t look at it as the finished article, but that’s my job to make it where people look at us and say, ‘yeah, that’s a real team’ and one people can say can get in the top two. I’ve got to find the answers to the questions and I’m confident that I will.”

He also appreciates the style of play that is demanded, having been known as a coach who gets his team organised and hard-working rather than exciting.

“I think first and foremost, North-East football fans want to see effort. Of course, you need skill, but the first requirement is effort,” said Parkinson. “I said to the players that when the fans drive away from the stadium, whether it’s home or away, I want them to say, ‘those boys had a real go today’.

“You might lose a game or you might have a decision go against you, but I want supporters to drive away feeling they couldn’t have asked anymore from the players.”