Sandbach United FC was this week crowned club of the year at the virtual awards ceremony for the 2020 FA and McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards.
The awards celebrate the efforts of volunteers across England who “go the extra mile” to support their local communities.
United received the award in the presence of names such as England manager Gareth Southgate, Sir Geoff Hurst, Martin Keown and Casey Stoney.
Normally, the winners are presented with their awards at a ceremony held at Wembley Stadium before the Community Shield, something that was not possible for the class of 2020 due to the pandemic.
Sandbach United is a grassroots club, with 48 teams and more than 700 players, and its work allows youngsters to shine on and off the pitch.
The award organisers said that all players were encouraged to stand out and be the best they could be – not just in football, but in school, work and the community.
Recently, the club has had a focus on growing women’s and girls’ teams, adding four female teams in the last two years under the FA Wildcats scheme.
From being a Wildcats Centre, giving girls aged 5-11 a chance to try football for the first time, through to engaging women to get back into football after giving birth, the club is committed to increasing female participation across all age groups.
Sandbach’s disability section also grows by the week, and the club recently began working with Cerebral Palsy FC, providing it with free use of its facilities.
During the ceremony, Sandbach United received a surprise video call from Manchester United Women’s manager and McDonald’s ambassador Casey Stoney, following her visit to the club in the summer.
The club’s head of football, Oliver Byron said: “This award belongs to everyone involved in this wonderful club. It’s for every player, coach, volunteer, parent and anyone else who is connected to us and helps us do what we do. It’s a very proud day for the club, the town and the community.
“We couldn’t be prouder of this club, from relatively humble beginnings in 2004 to everything you see today, over 700 players spread across 48 teams playing out of our fantastic Hind Heath Road facility.”
A delighted Oliver Byron, head of football and operations manager, insisted that the success was down to the hard work at all levels of the club.
He said: “Everyone at the club is over the moon. To win the regional award was an honour but to discover that we had won the national award was fantastic.
“It shows the hard work of the club’s committee, the coaches, the volunteers and the parents, past and present.”
Mr Byron added: “We’re going to continue to keep doing what we’re doing, maintaining these high standards that we already have, going from strength to strength.”
Ms Stoney, who visited the club last year to reveal it had won, said: “I feel really proud for the people here because I know how much work and effort would have gone into it, but it’s the passion you see in the people that make this club happen.
“I’ve walked away with a really warm feeling and real hope for the grassroots game. It’s really kind of lit my fire again.”
The club has previously been described as a “very worthy” winner by the chief executive of Cheshire FA, Mike Watson.
He said: “They’ve had a huge impact on the community and their surrounding areas, and they create the best possible outcome for new players.
“Taking it all into account, they have 48 teams providing football for everyone.
“They should be thrilled. They do fantastic work and they do genuinely provide a really positive experience; very worthy winners.”
Local McDonald’s franchisee Eddie Leligdowicz, who said he was an “avid supporter” of grassroots football, said: “Sandbach is a club where everyone matters. The people who pour countless hours of hard work and sacrifice into making sure its players thrive really highlight the difference volunteers can make to local communities.
“This is something that has been more important than ever after the difficulties of the last 12 months.
“I’m so pleased we are still able to come together and celebrate everything the club stands for and the people behind it.”