MARCUS STEWART admits tonight's return to Town will be "an emotional, special occasion."
The 30-year-old leads the Sunderland attack in the big pre- season friendly (7.45) at a McAlpine Stadium where he is still accorded hero status.
Voted Town's greatest ever player in a phone poll only two months ago, Stewart can't wait to run out and face Peter Jackson's side in front of supporters he knows and loves.
"I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I found out about the fixture, and the closer the game has got the more nervous and excited I've become," said Stewart, who scored 69 goals in 162 games in blue and white stripes.
"It's a special feeling and it's just because the place, the people and the club mean so much to me.
"The only other time I can remember feeling like this was when I played for Town against Bristol City, who I supported as a kid, and all my family were there at Ashton Gate.
"I managed to score in that game and we won 2-1 and I ran all the way round to the main stand to celebrate and to show everyone what it meant to me.
"I haven't felt like that for any other game until now, and I can't imagine feeling like this returning to any other club but Town."
Stewart hasn't played at the McAlpine since scoring in a 1-0 win against Tranmere on January 22, 2000, when Town looked like heading to the First Division play-offs.
Many fans still blame his £2.75m sale to Ipswich after the following week's 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace for the start of all Town's subsequent problems (they missed the play-offs on the final day of the season as Stewart helped take his new club to the Premiership).
"I never sought to move on and never put in a transfer request - it never even entered my head - but the club clearly felt they needed the money and when Ipswich offered, that was it," he said.
"To sell me at that time to a rival promotion candidate in the same division just illustrated to me how desperate the money situation must have been and, obviously, it's hard to believe where the club is now."
Stewart is now settled near Durham with wife Vicky and sons Kian (3½) and Finlay (10 months) - "Kian has got a lovely left foot on him" says dad.
He will meet up after tonight's game with a few old mates, including ex-McAlpine colleague Simon Baldry who he stays in close touch with.
"I've been dreaming about tonight and about scoring if I possibly can," he said.
"I want to score in every match but this would be really special, because the only results I look for on a Saturday afternoon are Town and Bristol City.
"It will be just great to play in front of the Town fans again and it's smashing that Jacko and Taff (Terry Yorath) are back in charge.
"They were great when I was there - we had the hardest pre-season I have ever gone through, and I felt the benefit - and I just hope they can bring the club back up to where it belongs in the next few years."
So what of life at Sunderland?
"The manager (Mick McCarthy) has been fantastic to me and I just hope I can repay that faith this season," explained Stewart.
"I was down in the doldrums last year and well out of the picture, but Mick seems to like me as a player and he has given me confidence.
"After last season, we are obviously going to try to get back up at the first attempt and if I can play my share of games, get my share of goals and help in that, I'll be very happy. Doubly so if Town go up as well!"