The world of football has been left battered and bruised by the FIFA scandal but grassroots hero George Blake is a timely reminder of why the game is such a force for good.
George has been giving up his own time to coach youngsters at Cleveland Juniors for 30 years now – and that selflessness and pride in his voluntary work has earned him a Teesside Hero award.
The Coulby Newham dad-of-two, whose brother Robbie played Premier League football, has helped nurture professional football talent such as Jonathan Woodgate, Phil Stamp, Dale Roberts and Paul Arnison but he is proudest of his influence at a grassroots level.
It is that dedication that earned him a Teesside Hero award from charitable movement, Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, together with £1,000 which he has donated to Cleveland Juniors.
George is no stranger to awards, though, as he was honoured by Prince William two years ago at Buckingham Palace as part of the FA’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
“When you’re just a bloke who comes from Park End, that’s the last thing you expect to happen but that just shows how important football is,” George said.
“I love coaching and if you can get a couple of kids off the street and set them on the road you’ve done a little bit. That’s why I enjoy it so much.
“I coach on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, then there’s a game on Sunday and there are meetings in between. I don’t get paid to do it but I wouldn’t want to take anything out of it anyway because I enjoy doing it so much. That is the most important thing.”
It is that dedication and selflessness which prompted George’s Teesside Hero nomination from Michelle Rush, chair of Cleveland Juniors FC, whose late father, Frank, set up the club.
And it was Frank who first roped George into coaching 30 years ago when he had popped down to watch brother Robbie in action at Cleveland Juniors.
“It just took off from there,” George said. “I would love to be able to just sit down and write down some of the things we’ve done. It would make great reading.
“The ethos of the club is right and the development of our players is right as well. Winning is not everything. It’s about giving the kids a sense of direction.
“It’s a matter of learning about life – discipline, respect for people, teamwork and good attitude. If you can make kids appreciate those sorts of qualities, it’s no bad thing to give them a good start.”
George, who is a service manager at a VW dealership in Northallerton, has played an instrumental role in making sure Cleveland Juniors has prospered by setting up its academy.
“It was like a new beginning for the club; a real lifeline,” he said. “People put a lot of work into getting it going and that hard work has paid off. Five years ago we had three teams but now we’ve got over 20 teams kids turning up from four and five years old.
He continued: “When we first sent things out to get the academy going we were expecting five kids but 30 turned up and within weeks we had hundreds of kids.
“The academy is free. Times are hard for everybody and if we can do anything for kids at any level, that’s great. We are a bit unique in that the kids get to play football for free.”
George received his Teesside Hero award from Chris Nolan, of Philanthropic Foundation patrons Erimus Insurance Brokers after being put forward by Michelle.
Michelle said: “George has dedicated his life to the young people of Middlesbrough for 30 years and continues to do so.
“The academy has helped hundreds of disadvantaged children access football in our area. George’s dedication to change things for the better on Teesside is phenomenal.”