Heroes of the Game
Football is special.
No matter who you are, where you’re from or who you support, football has the power to connect people and change lives.
Now, perhaps more than ever before in our recent history, we’re seeing the true impact of the game and the people that live it every day, as football clubs, players and fans come together to support their communities through these difficult times.
Support for our clubs and our teams, support from our communities, fans and families is at the very heart of the game we all love.
For Camilla Woodrow and her family, especially her son Thomas, this couldn’t be truer and, around this time last year, the sheer power and impact of support within their football community was brought into sharp focus.
In spring 2019 on a simple trip to McDonald’s, Camilla Woodrow saw an advert for The Grassroots Football Awards.
The FA & McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards are for people who make a positive difference. It’s a way to celebrate the fantastic individuals who put their heart and soul into the grassroots game across England – and say a huge thank you to the incredible volunteers who inspire us all.
The awards aim to recognise and reward the people, clubs and leagues that deliver grassroots football throughout the country. The awards are split into categories, and County FAs select a local winner for each from the public’s nominations. From supporters, referees, coaches or volunteers, winners will be those whose actions and behaviour make The FA’s PRIDE values part of the game for their clubs, leagues and communities.
It was during that trip to McDonald’s that Camilla thought to nominate her husband for his work at their local Club, Thatcham Town Harriers, where he is the Club Secretary, Treasurer and a club coach.
However, at the eleventh hour and upon seeing the Supporter of the Year category, she made a decision that would end up having a lasting impact on their lives as a family that they simply would never have imagined.
It was at this moment that Camilla decided to nominate her then 13-year-old son, Thomas, instead.
“My husband is a grassroots coach and I think all volunteers deserve applauding, but I think that Thomas's commitment to the game in a time of difficulty was the more worth accomplishment and I think my husband would agree!” said Camilla.
In August 2018, at the age of 12, Thomas had just undergone his second of seven major surgeries to lengthen his legs. As a result, he was ruled out of playing for the entirety of the 2018/19 season. This would have been a disappointing and dispiriting prospect for a player of any age, perhaps especially a teenager who lives and breathes the sport.
Yet, Thomas channelled that disappointment and truly made the best of adversity. He went on to attend every one of his team’s matches as a supporter that season to cheer on his friends and assisted the coaches in their duties as a way of staying in touch with the game and his teammates.
Thomas’s perseverance to get back playing and his emotional maturity to overcome setbacks have earned him the respect of teammates, coaches and parents.
Of her son and her decision to nominate him in the ‘Supporter of the Year’ category, Camilla said; “I am aware of the FA values through our involvement with grassroots football, and I thought that Thomas's commitment to his team, going out to watch them every week and assisting at coaching embodied those values, particularly Respect and Determination.”
What ensued over the coming weeks and months was not something Camilla had really entertained as a possibility, as Thomas went on to win not only the local Berks & Bucks FA award but also the FA National award for ‘Supporter of the Year’.
Having spoken with Camilla on several occasions throughout the process last year, one thing that she often referred to was how she never would of imagined how one simple nomination would have ended up with the James Ward-Prowse attending their club training session to surprise Thomas and his teammates, or indeed that the family would be invited to London where Thomas would receive a national award in front of a packed Wembley Stadium from Sir Geoff Hurst himself.
Even now, nearly a year on the impact is still being felt by the whole family, as Camilla explains:
“I think that the award gave us a real lift at a difficult time. Thomas had just undergone unexpected surgery when we found out he had been nominated for the local award, so it was fantastic timing. We all still look back on that day with a real sense of pride and excitement. I am so pleased that I took the time to nominate Thomas.
“I can't speak highly enough of the Berks & Bucks FA and the national FA. Both the events we attended were so well run, and we had a real sense that the people we met were as excited for Thomas as we were. Throughout the whole process, everybody from the Berks & Bucks FA, the film crew, James Ward-Prowse, The FA hosts, fellow nominees and winners really looked after us and recognised the determination Thomas had shown.
“It’s also important to recognise the support the team gave to Thomas as well as the support he gave to them. The maturity and compassion they have shown and continue to show has been brilliant.
“When Thomas (now 14) played his first match back earlier this year, our two U14 Thatcham Town Harriers teams were playing one another and both teams stopped and clapped when he came on. In his second match back, one of his team mates stood aside and let him take a penalty which thankfully Thomas scored but it didn’t stop me from crying!”
In any awards process the focus is usually, as you would imagine, on the nominees and the eventual winners themselves. However, it’s crucial to recognise the importance of the nominators, many of whom would be worthy of awards themselves.
Without people like Camilla and the hundreds of others each year who take the time to nominate their heroes of the game, there simply wouldn’t be awards to give or receive. As individuals, we each have the chance to make a difference and to recognise the impact of the people around us that we know and love, in a different way than we normally would.
To those of us then who might be considering nominating someone special, or those of us who perhaps think that their nominations won’t make a difference or ultimately end in success, what does Camilla say?:
“Just say do it. It isn't a lengthy or difficult process and the recognition when Thomas won was just incredible and I am sure the inspiring stories Thomas heard helped him remain motivated on his way to recovery.”
“We never thought we or Thomas would meet such football legends as Martin Keown, Pat Jennings or end up giving Kevin De Bruyne the Man of the Match Award live on TV on the pitch at Wembley. The session the team had when the film crew attended training was absolutely amazing for all of our boys. They would never have dreamt of having a kickabout with James Ward-Prowse - a Premiership footballer!”
If you’ve been inspired to nominate your heroes of the grassroots game, please visit the nomination portal on The FA website.
Nominate your grassroots heroes today
You never know, in a couple of months-time this story could be yours…