It’s now that time of the year to hand out my accolades to players, managers, committee members, individuals and clubs alike for all they have achieved in the past 12 months for our Non League game.
Of course, I cannot mention everyone I would like to but their work is so well received by everyone in the game.
Let us start with our managers who have a thankless job, reflected by the fact nine of our 11 clubs have had a change of manager (and, in some cases, more than one) to add to the nine since January, such are the pressures.
Mark Shaw is doing a great attacking job at Worksop, Russ Eagle is taking Worksop Parramore towards promotion and Ian Whitehorne only needs a couple of defenders to boost Sheffield FC’s chances of a Play-off place.
But my choice for MANAGER OF THE YEAR goes to CHRIS HILTON at Worsbrough Bridge - for the second year in a row.
Without paying players’ wages again, he has built up a promotion-chasing team that went through last season without losing a single game at Park Road to finish in ninth place in the North Counties East League First Division.
This season they are fourth and have lost twice at home in the league but are playing well away.
His man-management is something many of our managers would do well to look and learn from and let us hope the club’s ambitions for promotion are forthcoming.
I have seen a good number of games this season, indeed 80 since July, and though many of our clubs are under-achieving, many of our players have impressed me.
Steve Woolley at Sheffield FC is still a great model as a player, Nathan Swindells is at last blossoming to the player he can be, Jamie Smith is beginning to dominate the Staveley midfield and Liam Cartledge goes on scoring at Dinnington
However, my PLAYER OF THE YEAR goes to a striker who, though playing in a team having a poor season, has scored 13 - and that is NATHAN JOYNES of Stocksbridge Park.
Nathan is strong and willing and is leading Steels line with flair and tenacity and, despite injuries this season, is a great, hard working striker.
Some of my most enjoyable nights out are watching our club’s Under 19s in the North Midlands League and they are, in many cases, the future of our clubs.
These are words I’m certain Directors at Staveley, Hallam, Worsbrough and Sheffield would be glad to echo.
Many of our youngsters are developing into mature players and so it gives me great pleasure to say my YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR goes to centre back KONNA PAYNE who is playing so well at Staveley. I believe one day he will be in their first team or, indeed, transferred to higher club and he will do well wherever that may take him. Certainly under manager Neil Cluxton he is quickly maturing into a great stopper and ball player.
Moving around all our grounds I see many regular faces and talk to a lot of characters within our game. Many go years without any accolades and, of course, it would be impossible to name them all. But one of the aspects we tend to overlook is the Ladies who work so hard for our clubs without getting any thanks their work surely deserves.
I was once told at Hallam that the “canteen” money earned was often more than they take on the gate and if you go to any ground today anywhere, you will almost certainly find they have a thriving canteen. Last season Ele Reaney was our worthy winner for my outstanding CONTRIBUTION TO NON LEAGUE FOOTBALL and this season another lady wins it - and for the second time.
ANN HOLLAND can always be found running her canteen at Sandygate when Hallam or any other team are there and in this season of hard times, she is a willing worker on their committee as well and has been for many years.
Others in the running were Bruce Bickerdike at Parkgate, John Mills at Maltby and Steve Toyne at Dinnington, but Ann had a little edge over them and so it is well done to everyone who works so hard for our game behind the scenes.
My final piece tends to be the most controversial but I stress that I only see players now and again but I name my SQUAD OF PLAYERS FOR THE YEAR and don’t believe in sitting on the fence.
My choice is: Goalkeeper: STEVE HERNANDEZ of Worksop Parramore, for the second season in a row and he has been outstanding.
My back four consists of BEN TURNER from Sheffield FC (for the second year in a row) for his outstanding contributions, the centre backs are NICK SWIRAD of Stocksbridge Park who often seems to be fighting a lone battle and LUKE SYKES whose contribution to the Maltby Main defence is the reason they are doing much better this season and the left back is JAMES YOUNG who is playing so well at Worsbrough Bridge after his move in early season from Shaw Lane Aqua Force.
My four midfield players are MATT THORPE of Staveley, maturing into a really top class provider, ANDY GASCOIGNE from Sheffield FC who would be an even better player if he could control his dreadful temper, his teammate WARREN BURRELL, a captain who always leads by example and CHRIS WHITE at Worsbrough Bridge.
Both strikers score a lot of goals but always open the way for others to move in and score.
They are Worksop Parramore’s SAM SMITH, a youngster who improves every game, and NATHAN JOYNES who works hard for all his goals at Stocksbridge Park.
A very Merry and sporting Christmas to you all and hope to see you at a game over the festive period.