On Sunday (25th February), the North East Football Writers’ Association held their star-studded awards night at Ramside Hall Hotel in Durham.

Jamaal Lascelles and Colin Young

Sponsored by William Hill, the popular annual event celebrates the best of North East football and raises funds for our Foundation.

Once again, the region’s football clubs and media came together to support the night and Colin Young, secretary of the North East Football Writers’ Association, did a sterling job organising everything with the help of the hotel.

Our thanks to all the guests and everyone involved in making the evening such a success and we hope you like the gallery of images below.

Awards were given for performances in the 2016/17 season to Men’s Player of the Year, jointly to Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie, Young Player of the Year, Jordan Pickford, and Womens’ Player of the Year, Victoria Williams.

Colin Young and Victoria Williams

There were also presentations to Newcastle United manager, Rafa Benitez, and non-league clubs Blyth Spartans, Spennymoor Town and South Shields, while former Newcastle and Middlesbrough winger, John Hendrie, was the entertaining guest speaker.

Retired Northern Echo sports editor, Ray Robertson, received the Ivan Sharpe Football Writers’ Association’s Lifetime Membership and Sunderland, Middlesbrough and South Shields legend, Julio Arca, received the John Fotheringham Award.

The Bob Cass award went to Times’ writer, George Caulkin, who was extremely surprised by the honour given in recognition of his commitment to this charity.

Liz Luff, from our Foundation, said: “George is a Patron of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. He’s also a fundraiser, a writer and a sounding board for the charity.

“He supports our work in every way he possibly can and is a key player in Sir Bobby’s team.”

Rafa Benitez and Colin Young

Colin Young has written more about the special John Fotheringham and Bob Cass awards, both given in memory of legendary North East football journalists, in his piece at the end of this article.

Capping off a very special evening, former Sunderland striker, Jermain Defoe, received the North East Personality of the Year trophy, an award given in association with our Foundation, which recognises someone who uses their position in football to benefit the wider community.

The player’s relationship with young cancer patient, Bradley Lowery, caught the hearts of the whole nation and helped raise awareness of neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer which affects less than 100 children in the UK each year.

Bradley was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at just 18-months-old and last year his mum, Gemma Lowrey, shared the devastating news that the cancer was terminal. Bradley passed away in July surrounded by his family and friends.

In a very moving finale to the awards, Gemma presented Jermain with the trophy and the pair received a standing ovation.

Jermain Defoe and Gemma Lowery

Gemma said: “Not everyone gets to meet their heroes or spend so much time with them. The fact that Bradley was able to have those special memories with Jermain, and that we have them too, forever, is really special.”

Jermain said: “I’ve said to Gemma that I’ll do whatever I can do to continue to support her family. Like this night, I just had to be here. To be honest, it’s a little bit strange receiving an award for something you do purely from the goodness of your heart you don’t think about getting an award for it.

“Even when I walk around Tesco people come up to me, probably who haven’t even watched football before, and they know me because of my relationship with Bradley. I’ve had messages from people in Australia.

“So the awareness that little Brad raised is quite phenomenal really.”

Colin Young, secretary of the North East Football Writers’ Association (NEFWA), shares his thoughts here on what was a special night for North East football and our Foundation:

Every year the NEFWA presents awards in honour of two of the region’s most respected football writers, John Fotheringham and Bob Cass.

‘Fothers’ worked for The Weekly News, was a founder member of the NEFWA and helped establish this annual awards dinner, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next year.

Following his untimely death more than 25 years ago, the NEFWA introduced the John Fotheringham Award, which goes to someone who has made a significant contribution to football in the North East.

Over the years the award has gone to high-profile figures such as Sir Bobby Robson, Steve Gibson, Niall Quinn, Jack Charlton, Bob Moncur and Mark Clattenburg. In 2009, the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation became the only organisation to receive the award.

Colin Young and Julio Arca

This year it was awarded to former Sunderland and Middlesbrough favourite, Julio Arca, who returned from a brief retirement in Argentina to play for non-league South Shields and played a major role in the club’s rise through the leagues. He also won at Wembley last season.

After his manager, Graham Fenton, had received a special merit award for that FA Vase win, the ever-popular Julio was surprised by the Fotheringham announcement – as is its long-held tradition – and took to the stage to regale the audience, aided by MC Phil Hourigan, with tales explaining his unique love affair with the North East.

The surprised party in the next category, the Bob Cass Award, was Sir Bobby Robson Foundation Patron and Times writer, George Caulkin. He made a much briefer appearance on stage and was clearly embarrassed by ‘the fuss.’

George commented afterwards that the award was: “Very kind. I don’t feel I should be rewarded for being a Patron – being a Patron IS a reward. There’s nothing I’m prouder of. But I’m very happy, so thank you.”

‘Cassy’ would understand. He was once furious he had been kept in the dark as the Fotheringham winner, and almost refused to accept the trophy at all as he sat muttering on the top table that night.

Colin Young and George Caulkin

Another founder of the NEFWA and their players’ awards, Cassy was the doyen of his profession, working as a leading football writer for The Mail On Sunday. He sadly died from cancer in November 2016.

In memory of a man who was always central to the awards night’s success and its continuation, the NEFWA introduced the Bob Cass Award last year, leaving the decision to Bob’s widow Janet, children, Simon, Alison and Jennifer and me, as secretary of the NEFWA.

Last year, we chose John Adamson, owner of the venue, the Ramside Hall Hotel Golf Club and Spa, in recognition of his help to the family and Bob. He also joined the award selection committee.

This time they chose George, who ran the London and Paris marathons last year to raise funds for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, to acknowledge the important role he plays as a Patron of the charity and raising awareness of its work among his peers.

Bob was a huge admirer of a writer, who, like the great man was, is an honest, football-loving proper journalist from this region. Someone people trust when he breaks a story.

Before Bob’s death, both Bob and George helped build a strong relationship between the NEFWA and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. We have now raised more than £20,000 for the charity through this awards event.

The Cass and Fotheringham Award presentations are always one of my favourite parts of the night because we have always managed to keep them a surprise. Only a handful in the room know the winner and we always get different reactions from them.

Jermain Defoe and Gemma Lowery

Although Julio is one of the handful of well-known winners, I like the fact we have recognised so many figures from grassroots football too, such as scouts Jack Hixon and Brian Clark and Mike Amos, the journalist and former Northern League chairman who walked to every ground in his leagues to raise funds for Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

My favourite year was when the Newcastle United tea lady, Kath Cassidy, received the Fotheringham Award from Bob Cass and the pair of them had a great laugh and reminisced on stage.

The annual awards night should always be about our players of the year, who are selected by the region’s football writers. It is their night but this year had a different feel because we presented Newcastle United captain, Jamaal Lascelles, with the 2018 player of the year trophy early in proceedings so he could be fresh for training in the morning.

That meant changing the running order of the night so, after we had presented Ray Robertson with the Ivan Sharpe Lifetime Membership, and George’s short appearance, it was time for the finale and presentation of the Personality of the Year award to Jermaine Defoe.

We undoubtedly saved the best to last. Standing by the stage and watching the standing ovation for Jermaine Defoe and Gemma Lowery will live with me for a long time.