As World Cup fever grips the nation, a Teesside football club chairman has hit the back of the net by scoring a special award.
Lee Shackleton, 48, has received a Teesside Hero award from charitable movement Teesside Philanthropic Foundation in recognition of his long-term commitment to Billingham Juniors FC.
Lee has been heavily involved with the club for more than a decade, managing several of its teams and acting as the driving force behind its role in providing sporting opportunities for children in and around Billingham.
The club was known as Billingham Town Juniors and based at Bedford Terrace with only a handful of teams when Lee first got involved 13 years ago as son Billy played for one of them.
It has made giant strides ever since under his chairmanship and now boasts 17 sides ranging from under-7 to under-16 level – and more than 230 registered players.
Billingham Juniors have their own home pitch known as The Village Ground, along with a girls’ section and plans for a disabled section.
The grassroots club is a long-established fixture in the Teesside Junior Football Alliance – Europe’s biggest youth football league – and was named TJFA Club of the Year in 2006 and Durham FA Charter Standard Club of the Year three years ago.
Lee’s dedication has been central to Billingham Juniors’ development and he gets a great deal of satisfaction in seeing young footballers with smiles on their faces.
A Billingham lad himself, Lee says the club prides itself on being all-inclusive and places an emphasis on what he calls “the three F’s” – fun, friendship and football.
“I thought the club had so much potential when I first got involved,” said Lee, who is Billingham Juniors’ secretary as well as chairman.
“And I just love football – I think it’s a great outlet for children in terms of keeping fit, promoting a work ethic and team spirit.
“Everyone I talk to remembers the first team they played for, and our main goal at Billingham Juniors is trying to build memories and friendships that last for life.
“I consider ourselves to be a true grassroots, non-competitive club in the Billingham community where kids of all ages and abilities can play.
“But we know that kids like to win as well and it helps them develop, so we do like to strike a balance. What we do is really rewarding.”
A builders’ merchant branch manager by day, he even finds time to be a TJFA board member and is the divisional coordinator for the under-13s league.
He received his Teesside Hero trophy in a surprise presentation at Billingham Juniors’ end-of-season awards day after being nominated by the club “in recognition of his effort, commitment and passion”.
Chris Nolan, of Philanthropic Foundation patrons Erimus Insurance Brokers, presented the trophy at the Swan Hotel, where Lee was expecting to hand out silverware rather than collect a gong of his own.
“I should have known something was up when I saw that we had a couple of reserved seats in the room – we never have reserved seats,” Lee joked.
“I didn’t know it was me the kind words were being said about at first before I received the trophy, and my wife said you could have heard a pin drop because all of the kids were listening so intently.
“It’s very flattering to be appreciated.”
Lee refuses to take full credit for the Billingham Juniors success story however and added: “It’s a real team effort on and off the pitch at our football club.
“We have a treasurer and vice-chairman as well as myself, and 41 volunteers. And the parents really buy in to what we do. The future is bright because we do things right.”
Along with his trophy, Lee received a meal voucher donated by Chadwicks Inn in Maltby and £1,000 for charity.
He has asked for the money to be donated to a local muscular dystrophy charity following the sad news that the club’s under-15s coach Geoff Snaith’s young son Theo has been diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.