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East Lancs premier league stars honour grassroots sports
THEY are the local boys done good; the Premier League stars who have never forgotten their roots.
Anthony Pilkington and Jay Rodridguez may be plying their trade at the top of the game but they still remember the park pitches of East Lancashire where it all began.
And they both support the Lancashire Telegraph Grassroots Heroes Awards – awards that honour all that is good in amateur sport.
For while Pilkington may now be a key member of Norwich City and a Republic of Ireland international, he is ever bit a former Akzo Juniors player.
And Rodriguez – tipped by many to be a future England player – still remembers the days he turned out for Barrowford Celtic before signing schoolboy forms for Burnley FC.
Both may have taken different routes to the top but both know the importance of the dedication shown at grassroots level.
Pilkington’s parents, Neil and Sandra, ran Akzo Juniors and still run Crown Paints Juniors to this day while Rodriguez played for a team run by former Burnley players Jeff Smith and Vince Overson – both good friends of his dad Kiko, a prominant player and manager on the local football scene.
“I know exactly how hard managers and secretaries and people who run clubs work because my mum and dad did it and still do it,” said Pilkington, a former St Bede’s High School pupil.
“They used to do all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes so that me and my brother Dan and our mates could play a game of football.
“And I am sure it is the same at any club you go to.
“I remember my dad used to go and pick up players who couldn’t get to the games and there would be five or six of us in the car.
“But I loved it, it’s what grassroots football is all about. I have some great memories from those days.”
Pilkington believes awards such as the Grassroots Heroes Awards are important to highlight the work people like his mum and dad do at clubs across East Lancashire.
“I think it is very important to acknowledge the achievements that go on in grassroots sports so awards like these are a perfect way to do just that,” said Pilkington who started his career at Stockport County after he was released by both Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers.
“Many look back and say parents, a coach or someone who runs a club has been a big influence on their career. My parents have been all of them so I know just how vital the role people just like them play at grassroots level.”
Rodrguez echoes those sentiments and he says he tries to attend as many presentations as possible because he knowns exactly how he felt as a youngster.
“I was at Barrowford Celtic for a few years and we had a good team and won the league and also won some cups as well so we would go to awards where we would pick up prizes from Burnley players.
“I remember being star-struck but it meant so much to me. That is why I always try to put something back in the community.”
As well as making himself readily available for awards nights for clubs in and around Burnley and now Southampton, Rodriguez has firsthand experience of the Grassroots Heroes Awards having been present in 2011.
“I was at the Grassroots Heroes Awards a few years ago and I was impressed by what is being achieved in amateur sport and also the hard work that goes in to it,” said the former Barden High School pupil.
“The beauty of these type of awards is that you discover what is going on in a wide range of sports you would otherwise not learn about.”
Rodriguez too looks back at his Celtic days with fond memories.
“The team was run by Jeff and Vince and I always remember how hard they worked,” he said. “Jeff Taylor was secretary and he did a lot of the stuff you don’t really know about. So I understand the need to honour unsung heroes and those who have committed their free time to let youngsters like me play and enjoy the game.”
Pilkington famously got his chance when he scored a hat-trick for Atherton Colleries against FC United while studying at Myerscough College.
That prompted Stockport County to swoop and the rest, as they say, is history.
While every footballer won’t achieve those dreams he knows that they have to start somewhere.
He said: “I always dreamt of being a professional footballer and even when I went to college I kept on believing.
“For a young footballer, those dreams have to start somewhere so that is why grassroots sport is so important.”
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