Once again, the North East Football Writers’ Association Awards, sponsored by William Hill, supported our Foundation with their star-studded event at Ramside Hall in Durham.
Mark Robson, Chris Kamara and Steve Gibson (Patron)
Celebrating the best of North East football, winners included Men’s Player of the Year 2021, awarded to Allan Saint-Maximin and collected on his behalf by Newcastle United co-owner Amanda Staveley, and Women’s Player of the Year 2021, Durham Women FC’s Sarah Robson.
The hugely popular winner of North East Personality of the Year 2021, an award given in association with our Foundation to recognise someone who uses their position within football to benefit the wider community, was Chris Kamara.
Beth Hepple and Sarah Robson
Chris was presented with the award by Sir Bobby’s son, Mark, and Middlesbrough Chairman, Steve Gibson, a Patron of our Foundation, gave a wonderful, heart-felt speech about his childhood friend.
Steve said: “Chris is Chris, a ball of fun, and he’s brought a lot of pleasure right through all our lives. Our childhood went too quickly. We played a lot of football together and Chris was a great athlete and good footballer.
“People forget just how good a footballer he was, 750 appearances. And everybody remembers the tough tackling Chris Kamara but I remember him spraying the ball around, a very intelligent player and probably more suited to this generation that he was his own generation.”
Chris spent 24 years in football as a player, coach and manager and a further 24 years covering the game on television. He is a patron of Show Racism The Red Card, has been an ambassador for Marie Curie for more than a decade and became an ambassador for Special Olympics Great Britain in 2011 after taking part in the Special Olympics Unity Cup in Cape Town during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Ian Dennis and Amanda Staveley with Allan Saint-Maximin’s Player of the Year trophy
Receiving the award, Chris said: “It’s such a pleasure to be here. Thank you to the football writers and thank you to Steve, my oldest friend in the whole wide world.
“I thought my dream of becoming a professional footballer was over at 16 when my Dad made me join the Royal Navy. But that’s where I got my stroke of luck. When I went to Torpoint in Devon, the Navy football team train there and I managed to blag a game. We played Portsmouth, I managed to score two goals and Ian St John who was the manager at Pompey bought me out the navy for £200. It still goes down as the worst deal in the club’s history.
“I had the good fortune to spend most of the 2004 Euros in Sir Bobby’s company. He was a gentleman, he was brilliant, he would talk about his fantastic side at Ipswich all day long. Arnold Mühren, Mick Mills, all these types of people and it was just an absolute eye-opener. I’ve never enjoyed a tournament so much by being with somebody.
“I’ve got to thank my family. My two sons are here tonight. Ben and Jack with their partners and they’ve given me four grandkids who are my world. And also my wife, she is my rock, or as she tells it, my carer these days. So, I’m blessed, I’m lucky. Thank you all very much indeed.”
Other awards included Young Player of the Year 2021, Sunderland’s Dan Neil, and the prestigious John Fotheringham Award and Bob Cass Awards, which went to Hartlepool United’s Anthony Sweeney and John Cooke, former kitman at Sunderland respectively.
In addition, the Secretary of the North East Football Writers’ Association, Colin Young, received a surprise, additional Bob Cass award for services to the Association.
The night also celebrated the region’s magnificent non-league clubs with an award to Hartlepool United to mark their return to the Football League in 2021-22, and to Consett AFC and Hebburn Town, who played against each other in a thrilling FA Vase final at Wembley in 2020.
Luke O’Nien and Mark Robson
It was an opportunity to present trophies in person to the award winners from the previous year when the celebration event was cancelled due to Covid. These included Durham Women FC’s Beth Hepple (Women’s Player of the Year 2020), Middlesbrough’s Jonny Howson (Men’s Player of the Year 2020), Marcus Tavernier (Young Player of the Year 2020) and Sunderland’s Luke O’Nien (Personality of the Year 2020).
Luke was honoured for raising more than £7,000 for NHS Charities Together and helping keep Sunderland supporters active during lockdown by delivering daily fitness sessions via YouTube.
Receiving the award, Luke said: “It’s an incredible honour to receive something like this. Honestly, I feel a bit guilty about receiving it because during that tough time the people in the NHS, on the frontline, the key workers, in my eyes they were the true, true winners of something like this. So, even though I’m receiving this, I feel like it’s for those people who do such great work.”
The North East Football Writers’ Association Awards are voted for by football writers across the region.