Brian Sloan picked up the prestigious People’s Award at this year’s McDonald’s Irish FA Grassroots Football Awards gala.
The People’s Award winner - decided by an online public vote - was rewarded for his work with Brookvale FC in Co Armagh.
In the early 1980s Brian and his friend Alan Black set up the cross-community club in the Bessbrook area and it’s still going strong. And Brian (72) continues to be heavily involved. Brian's sons followed in his footsteps and now coach Brookvale teams, while his grandchildren play for the club.
He pipped Brian Gordon, a stalwart at Lurgan Town who has recently retired, to the award. Brian has held roles such as chairman, fixtures secretary, committee member and team manager since he helped to form the club in 1988.
Now in their 18th year, the awards recognise the huge contribution of clubs, coaches and volunteers in making grassroots football such a success throughout Northern Ireland.
The McDonald’s Irish FA Grassroots Football Awards presentation ceremony took place at Belfast City Hall this evening, with accolades presented in nine categories.
More than 200 guests were there to celebrate and recognise the highest ever number of nominations across the various categories.
Among the special guests were McDonald’s Head of Northern Ireland Football and Spurs legend Pat Jennings and McDonald’s Football Ambassador and Liverpool and Watford great John Barnes.
And Northern Ireland senior men’s team manager Michael O’Neill and former Northern Ireland international and Irish League legend Glenn Ferguson were also VIP guests.
The Volunteer of the Year accolade went to John Honeyford, who has been a volunteer across the football spectrum in Causeway Coast and Glens, starting with East End FC in the Coleraine Youth League.
John was instrumental in developing youth football in the area by creating the North West and Coleraine District Youth League, which is now known as the Harry Gregg Foundation Youth League.
Stuart Carson was presented with the Special Recognition Award. Stuart has coped with the tragic death of his nine-year-old son Carter in a car accident last year by coaching a team at the club his son played for, 18th Newtownabbey Youth FC, and promoting organ donation.
The Wes Gregg Coach of the Year trophy was awarded to Danny Kelly. The 28-year-old has been involved at Bangor Swifts since playing for the Co Down club’s youth team aged nine.
Three years ago he helped to set up Bangor Swifts Juniors FC. He is vice chairperson and coaches the 2011 team and he has even managed to get the parents of his players to take part in keep fit sessions.
Other winners on the night included McDonald’s Football Mum of the Year Paula Byrne, who coaches the U12 girls’ team at Camlough FC. Paula has established a strong girls’ section at the south Armagh club despite stepping forward to volunteer with no footballing experience or background.
The Inclusive Project of the Year accolade recognises inclusivity, upholding the Football For All ethos. This year it went to mental health charity TAMHI (Tackling Awareness of Mental Health Issues), which ensures sports groups across Northern Ireland have the structures and mechanisms in place to support positive mental health. It also works with the Irish FA Foundation on its successful Ahead of the Game programme, which focuses on promoting positive mental health.
Jordan Wray was named Young Volunteer of the Year.Jordan has played a key role in Glentoran Disability FC. The 22-year-old’s immersive work with the east Belfast club covers everything from administration to coaching and personally helping each player.
St Malachy’s OB Youth FC lifted the Club of the Year trophy. The north Belfast club has developed rapidly since forming in 2015. It now has more than 200 players, both boys and girls, and it is constantly developing its structures off the pitch, including a cross-community partnership with Albert Foundry.
Finally, the McDonald’s Football Restaurant of the Year accolade went to Paul Connan, the franchisee of the McDonald’s at Boucher Road in Belfast. Paul and his restaurant team were recognised for their cross-community work, supporting local sides such as Blackstaff Juniors, Willowbank and more recently CSP and Sandy Row Bears by providing equipment and other forms of backing.