0 Dedicated Oakwood Football Club coach Neil Blackwell up for award

A football lover who has devoted three decades of his life to one club has been put forward for a prestigious award.

Neil Blackwell has been nominated by Crawley MP Henry Smith for the Outstanding Contribution To Community Football Award at this year's FA Community Awards.

For 30 years he has been connected to Oakwood Football Club as a player, manager, coach, treasurer and groundsman.

The 55-year-old said: "It is a nice feeling to know that people appreciate what I have done over the years.

"I do this because I love football and it is my hobby. Of course, I like to win trophies with the teams but I am not in this for personal awards."

Oakwood FC, who are based at Oakwood Sports and Social Club, off Tinsley Lane, have a first team in Division Two of the Sussex County League and a host of youth teams.

Mr Blackwell added: "I enjoy the discipline that being part of a team can instil into these kids.

"I have worked with some talented people over the years and I see my role in being to help them succeed and go onto bigger things."

His career playing for the club was cut short when he broke a leg at the age of 28.

However, he went on to coach and manage the first team and reserves, and for the last decade has been working primarily with the youth teams.

As head of the junior section at Oakwood, he oversees 12 teams.

Throughout his time in charge of the youth teams, players have gone on to be awarded professional scholarships with Crystal Palace, Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion.

On top of this, for the last six years he has also held the roles of groundsman and club treasurer.

Mr Smith said: "The pitches that he looks after are reputedly the best in the league and are a testament to the hard work that he puts in to keep the club afloat.

"Neil is an inspiration to the young players that wear an Oakwood shirt, teaching them about dedication and how they can convert their passion for sport into a commitment to support their local communities.

"We are extremely lucky here in Crawley to have those, such as Neil, that dedicate their time to developing tomorrow's young talent."

The winner of the award will be chosen by a panel of judges, which includes 1966 World Cup hero Sir Geoff Hurst and the FA's director of football development, Sir Trevor Brooking.

Mr Blackwell will find out whether he has won at this year's FA Community Shield on August 12.

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Contact Kerry Haywood

07973 394037

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