One of the big-hearted leaders of a Boro fans group dedicated to bringing cheer to less fortunate Teesside children has received a Teesside Hero award in recognition of his charity work.
Marton dad-of- two Tony Wedlake is one of three organisers of charity group Boro Real Fans Believe in Dreams, who have helped a thousand Tees kids since setting up little more than a year ago, providing match tickets, stadium tours and other outings for them and their families.
Hundreds of generous Boro supporters have supported the project to the tune of £20,000 since its launch by Tony and fellow fans Jimmy Wilson and Jenny Fowles last year.
Boro Real Fans host six children and their carers at each Riverside home game, picking out the lucky winners from nominations they receive.
Tony, a process technician at the Riverside Stadium’s near-neighbours Chemoxy International, was helping to host another matchday group of 12 when Middlesbrough FC chief executive Mark Ellis presented him with his Teesside Hero award on behalf of charitable movement, Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.
Tony, whose prize also included a meal voucher for Mohujo’s restaurant and £1,000 for Boro Real Fans, said: “I do the charity work just because I love helping other people. I’d help everyone if I could.
“We’ve helped nearly a thousand local children now, thanks to the support of so many Boro fans, but we want to do much more for local kids, whether they’re seriously ill, have disabilities, have lost loved one or are simply underprivileged.
“I still can’t believe I’ve been given a Teesside Hero award because there are so many people out there deserving of such an award.”
Boro Real Fans initially hoped to raise £1,500 to pay for a mascot place, four season tickets and some stadium tours for kids in need of a boost, but the fund quickly took off and is now here to stay.
They organised a Christmas party for 120, an Easter party for 50, sent a family on holiday to Primrose Valley and bought bikes and Christmas presents for other children.
Now Tony’s busy working with fellow fundraiser Neal Bullock to organise the Erimus Cup, a golf tournament between Boro Real Fans and charity group Fats Lads on Bikes, to raise fund to get Finlay Ingles to the USA for a life-changing treatment on an inoperable brain tumour.
Tony, who is originally from Pallister Park, also does much good work outside of the fans’ group, often rallying to the cause when he hears about someone in need of help.
He joined forces with Neal Bullock to help raise £3,000 towards replacing the roof at Middlebeck Boxing Club and organised a fundraising night that brought in £6,000 to help send 12-year- old Chloe Yates, from Priestfields, for specialist bone cancer treatment in the USA.
Tony also helped organise a series of special memories for local lad Austin Marshall, who is losing his eyesight. The treats included a Lamborghini and Bentley day plus a special day out organised by Boro Real Fans for Austin and his family, while he was also made mascot for a Boro match.
He also supported a fundraising night that brought in nearly £6,000 for Pallister Park’s Cian Morrison-Allen, before the 19-month- old toddler lost his brave battle with neuroblastoma cancer after months of treatment at Newcastle RVI.
Rebecca Sands of charity Remembering Rebecca, who nominated Tony for the accolade, having already won a Teesside Hero award herself, said: “The reason why Tony stands out is not just for his dedication towards Boro Real Fans that is so close to his heart but his willingness to help out anyone who needs it. He has a heart of gold.”
To nominate an unsung community champion as a Teesside Hero, visit the Get Involved page of the Foundation’s website at www.teessidecharity.org.uk