KEVIN Gallacher has starred in the Premier League and played in European Championships and World Cup finals, Laura Massaro is one of the best squash players on the planet while Jay Rodriguez is one of the most sought-after footballers in the country.
All three are household names and have performed at the highest level.
And all three are united in their appreciation of amateur sport in East Lancashire.
Former Rovers star Gallacher, world number four Massaro and Burnley ace Rodriguez were guests of honour at the inaugural Grass Roots Heroes Awards last year – but all would agree that the real stars were the ones who were receiving the awards.
The awards were launched last year by the Lancashire Telegraph and United Utilities to celebrate amateur sport and all three admitted they were overwhelmed by the talent and dedication at grassroots level.
The first awards night was held at Mytton Fold Hotel which proved to be a huge success.
“I think I can speak for all of us by saying we were overwhelmed at the standard of talent on show at local level,” said the former Scotland striker.
“It was a wonderful night and it was great to see so many representatives from different sports under one roof.
“It was also a chance to hear about the hard work and dedication that goes on at this level so that talent can shine through.”
Gallacher knows exactly how much work goes in to sport at grassroots level – his wife is secretary of Ribchester Tennis Club.
“I know from first hand experience of the amount of work that goes in,” added Gallacher who also plays and coaches at the club.
“My wife does a tremendous amount of work to make sure the club keeps ticking over.
“There are people like her at every club and involved in all sports. If it wasn’t for these people, clubs simply would not exist.
“So awards like these are a tremendous idea.
“It raises awareness about the amount of work they actually do and it also gives them some some reward for doing so.”
England U21s striker Rodriguez, who has been linked with a move to the Premier League, is acutely aware of what role sporting celebrities like himself play in local amateur sport having experienced it from both sides.
The Burnley-born striker still remembers the days when he played for Barrowford Celtic as a youngster and former Clarets star, Steve Davis – now assistant manager to Owen Coyle at Bolton Wanderers – turned up to present the awards.
“It was a very special moment for me and every youngster wants to meet their hero or players from the team they support,” said the former Barden High School pupil. “It is something I have always remembered and when I became a professional football I always try and make myself available to attend presentations and awards night.”
He added: “The awards night last year was great and I was glad to have been a part of it.
Massaro, the current world squash player of the year and reigning British champion, admitted she was ‘amazed’ by what she saw at last year’s awards.
“I was also really impressed by the standard of sport in East Lancashire,” said Massaro who recently reached the semi finals of the British Open. “The level played by people in the area was amazing – there were so many national standard athletes and teams.”
Massaro believes awards like these can inspire youngster to go on and better themselves.
She said: “It was fantastic to see so many dedicated and passionate people and athletes getting rewarded for their effort and hard work.
“It’s a great inspiration for other teams and individuals to try and follow in their foot steps.
“It’s an even better example for youngsters, that with hard work success is possible where ever your from.”