Robbie Earle: Let's honour the unsung heroes behind our sporting success stories
Comment by Robbie Earle
I AM delighted the Sentinel/City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards will again honour our sporting success stories ... as well as the unsung heroes behind the achievements of our glory boys and girls.
I was honoured to attend the last awards night, in June, when Olympians Ashlee Nelson and Steve Lewis were among the dozens of winners.
Next year's awards evening is being held on April 1, but now is the time to get your all-important nominations in.
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I'm sure Ashlee, Steven and all the successful sportsmen and women would say there's been someone along the way who has given up their time to help them get to the top.
I always wanted to be a footballer, but the stars on Match of the Day seemed a world away to a six year old.
Instead, it was people such as my PE teacher at Weston Coyney Infants School, Mr Robinson, who helped me take my first steps to becoming a professional player.
Instead of just dismissing a starry-eyed kid's hopes of being a professional, he encouraged me and stressed the importance of time keeping, discipline and training if I wanted to make it.
He also encouraged me to take part in cross-country running and swimming, saying all that training would help me if I wanted to be a footballer.
I must add that he also stressed the importance of academic studies as well as sport.
At school, my approach was that the lessons could sometimes get in the way of the sport, but as I got older I appreciated the importance of the classroom stuff.
When I joined Port Vale as a youth player, I was one of 20 lads in the youth squad.
Of my group, only myself and winger Andy Shankland actually progressed to the first team.
That sort of success rate is pretty typical at clubs up and down the country, so it is worth having another string or two to your bow.
Besides, getting youngsters to play sport isn't all about producing gold medal-winners or professional footballers – sport is worth taking part in for its own sake.
I know I learned a few life lessons, such as how to work with other people in a team.
It also teaches you how to handle disappointment as well as success.
I was a bad loser but, when I stormed off the pitch without shaking hands with the opposition, I would soon be getting a lecture from Mr Robinson.
One of the things which as obvious at the awards was just how many sports are available to youngsters now.
When I was a youngster, there didn't seem to be much beyond football, cricket, swimming, rugby and athletics to chose from. But The Sentinel awards had winners in everything from taekwondo to rowing.
That's only possible because people have taken the trouble to give youngsters a chance to play the sport.
I was lucky to be able to play Ladsandads football at Cheadle and Normacot, but that was only thanks to the mums and dads who gave up their time every Sunday, and still do.
No doubt some of the lads playing on Sunday morning will be dreaming of playing for Stoke, Port Vale or Crewe one day, so it is nice to see all three clubs maintaining close links with their local communities by sending their players out to schools.
We couldn't have been more impressed at Longton High when the then Stoke captain, Denis Smith, paid us a visit than if the Queen herself had instead turned up and cooked us lobby.
I don't think footballers always realise the effect they can have on youngsters just by sparing some of their time.
Denis visited us a couple of times and presented a medal at a schools' cup final I was involved in.
I had managed to score in the game and was absolutely dumbstruck when the great man took the trouble to tell me I'd played well and to keep going.
Hopefully, some of the youngsters who are honoured at this year's sports awards will enjoy that same feeling of pride.
But don't forget your nominations for the Mr Robinsons of this world, who make it all possible.