Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson has paid a heartfelt tribute to Stewart Downing amid ongoing speculation over his future.
Downing’s future lies away from the Riverside having been told by boss Garry Monk that he can leave, with championship rivals Birmingham City among the clubs interested in the wideman.
For now, the 33-year-old remains a Boro player.
And his ongoing commitment to Teesside have been recognised with a Teesside Hero award, with his community work recognised by charitable movement Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.
Downing has made more than 300 appearances for Boro over two spells at the club.
Gibson said: "Throughout the time I’ve known Stewart Downing he has always been a passionate Boro lad, committed to the club and to his hometown.
"Beyond his abilities and achievements on the pitch, it’s heartening to know that he has shown his passion and dedication to the area by giving up his own personal time to help local charities and those less fortunate.
"From everything I know about Stewart, that’s typical of him and I congratulate him on his award. He is definitely a Teesside Hero."
Downing said: "I was born on Teesside, this is where I come from and I’m proud to call myself a Teessider.
"I enjoyed being away and playing for other clubs – it was a great experience – but I always said I’d come back, which is what I did when I had the chance.
"No matter what happens over the next few days and weeks, I see myself staying here once my playing days are over. I recently bought a new house here, I’ve got a young daughter and another one on the way, and I’m part of a close family who all live on Teesside.
"I think as a local lad you do have a responsibility to go out and support the community if you have the chance."
Downing received his award at Boro’s Rockliffe Park training ground.
The former England player also received £1,000 to donate to a local worthy cause, with the money donated to the club’s charity the MFC Foundation.