You often hear footballers play down the hype when they win an award and say they’re not in it for individual gain or that it’s recognition for the team.
And while Rotherham United midfielder Will Vaulks’ performances on the pitch this season in helping keep the Millers’ Championship survival hopes alive may well have put up in the running for personal acclaim, it is more his selfless efforts of the field which have seen him recognised.
The 25-year-old picked up the PFA Player in the Community Award at the EFL Awards in London.
Will, who signed for Rotherham in July 2016, has been volunteering at the Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice for two years and was made an ambassador of the charity in 2018.
The hard-tackling midfielder, who made his Wales debut earlier this year, spends one afternoon a week at the North Anston facility – doing everything from playing with the children to administration work. He is also a regular at Christmas parties and events.
Such is his commitment to the charity, our interview is interrupted after just 30 seconds when a Bluebell Wood van pulls up outside his home to collect an old sofa bed it can sell to raise funds.
After the brief interruption, Will said: “I was basically playing the Xbox at my house and I was just thinking I should be doing something better with my life.
“My dad worked and my mum did quite a bit of volunteering when I was growing up so it was something that I was always aware of and I was also aware I had quite a bit of time on my hands being footballer.
“I was 23 and just playing my Xbox at the time and I stumbled across Bluebell Wood on Twitter and they said they needed volunteers. I followed the link and applied and since then I have been going every Thursday.”
His dedication and commitment saw him win the award at a lucrative awards ceremony in London, after being nominated by his club.
He said he wanted to use it as a platform to promote the hospice and its work and admits that was the reason for accepting our request for an interview.
Will said: “If I am honest, I was more grateful that winning the award raises the profile of the charity.
“I didn't decide to volunteer at Bluebell to win it but it’s something that can only be positive and all the interviews that come from it is raising awareness.
“I don’t want to talk about me and how amazing I am but I want to help the hospice and the club.”
Will also praised the work of his manager Paul Warne in supporting him – it was his ‘gaffer’ who wrote one of his references when he first applied to be a volunteer.
He said: “Having a manager like that and who wants you to do stuff like volunteering is great. He wants you to be a good person as well as a good player.”
Warne, who is hoping to guide Rotherham to Championship survival, said: “I am all about the human being at this club and Will is probably the best human being I've got.
“By the way he lives his life and the way he trains, he gets utmost respect from the lads. He is a funny kid. Hopefully, if he can be a little be a sunshine for people on a cloudy day then what better gift to be able to give.”
Anna Gott, community fundraiser at Bluebell Wood, said: “Will is fantastic. He is a brilliant role model for the children and he is great with the families too, especially if they are Rotherham fans.
“We have got a young fundraising club for the under-16s and he is heavily involved with that. He does all sorts – from Christmas parties to the admin work that we don’t have time to do.”