NEIL Pilkington is no stranger to holding a sportsman’s dinner with former Manchester United star Lee Sharpe the latest guest of Crown Paints Junior Football Club.

The club chairman and his wife Sandra, who is secretary, have held no fewer than 26 such events over the years - starting with former Leeds United hard man Jonny Giles.

Over the years, stars of sport, politics and TV have all captivated audiences to help raise funds for the club - first at venues across Darwen and, for the last eight years, in the Premier Suite at Blackburn Rovers.

“The first event we held with Jonny Giles was completed different to the most recent one we held with Lee Sharpe,” said Pilkington.

“You just could not compare the two. I don’t think we really knew what we were doing when we first started but today the events are well run at lovely venues with wonderful food.”

Either way, Pilkington knows the importance of the annual fund raiser - the latest raising £6,000 for club funds.

“Holding sportsman’s dinners are vital for the club because the money we raise keeps us going for the year,” he added. “Nearly every other club is in the same situation as us.

“If we didn’t run such events then it would be difficult to keep going.

“That money will help pay for pitch fees, training facilities and the general day to day running of the club.”

As well as money raised from ticket sales, with more than 300 people attending the Ewood Park bash, funds were swelled by an on the night auction that included signed shirts from Barcelona, Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerard - while Crown Paints donated tickets for a corporate box for a Manchester United.

Mark Farrimond of Envelope Works also donated highly-sought after tickets for a corporate box for the forthcoming Blackburn Rovers v Burnley clash at Ewood Park later this month.

Sharpe, who also played for Leeds United and was capped by England, followed the likes of Frank Worthington, Jan Molby, Ray Parlour and Paul Merson, to retell tales of life as a professional footballer.

“He was very good to be fair,” said Pilkington. “He was at United during a very successful period and played with all the top players so he had some very interesting stories.

“The comedian, Kevin Connolly, was excellent as well. He could do a very good impression!”

Pilkington thanked Crown Paints and Mark Farrimond for their donations and Blackburn Rovers and Northcote for hosting the evening.

  • Crown Paints are looking to expand its junior section. For details contact Neil Pilkington on 07940 349121.