Rewards for decades of selfless work in the grassroots game were recently handed to Chris Baker of United Ockendon FC and Upminster Park Rovers YFC’s Dennis Wyman when they were presented with FA 50-Year Awards to thank them for their efforts.
To be eligible for The FA’s ‘Order of Merit’ Award, a nominated individual must have completed 50 years as a football volunteer, inclusive of their playing career but excluding any football played at school. Stalwarts Chris and Dennis both received their awards from the Essex County FA's Representative to The FA, Alec Berry.
Chris (pictured above) has been with one club all of his playing and administrative football career, albeit the club has changed its name several times over the years. He played for Duffins FC from the 1966/67 season until 1996/97, turning out when they were short of players or when individuals didn’t arrive on a Sunday morning, and he has been pivotal in maintaining his club’s existence.
Taking on many roles - including Treasurer, Secretary, Manager and Chairman - he’s ensured boys and men have had the opportunity to play football in South Ockendon. The club changed its identity to Albion Athletic (1971-73), Ockendon Plough (1973-95), Ockendon Motor Spares (1995-2007) and United Ockendon (2007 to date).
The club has appeared in eleven Essex Sunday Premier Cup Finals, winning the competition on seven occasions. United Ockendon (who were the original Ockendon Motor Spares ‘B’) have also won the competition on one occasion, their only appearance in the final.
Chris also took his Referee Course in 1991 and is still a match official to this day. He took up the whistle due to the shortage of referees locally, plying his trade mainly in the Thurrock Association Sunday League. Chris has been instrumental in helping to provide football to his home town with commitment and professionalism for 50 years.
Upminster Park Rovers FC (UPR) were founded in 1965 when Dennis and Jim Sadler decided to start a side for their sons, and they quickly formed a team with boys from the local area. UPR joined the Echo Junior League in 1966 and became the first team to play matches at Hall Lane Playing Fields in Upminster. The cost of hiring the pitch for that first season was just £5!
As the club expanded, so did the area from which they drew their members. UPR now have players from all over Havering, and from many neighbouring areas. Dennis has overseen this expansion, and now UPR have many committed members and a strong committee.
Over the years, Dennis has guided and steered the club and has held most roles at some point, keeping them running on his own when new volunteers couldn’t be found. In the 1970s, UPR faced difficult times financially as the country was plunged into a recession. During this time, Dennis paid all the league registration fees from his own money just to keep the club in operation.
His dedication has been unwavering, with no undertaking too small to warrant his attention. For many years, he organised the Summer Tournament and managed to persuade professional players like Trevor Brooking to present the trophies. In the early days of the club, Dennis qualified as a referee and, until the age of 77, he still regularly refereed matches and waived any fee.
In 2006, he led UPR to FA Charter Standard status, no mean feat for such a large club. They continue to thrive, with over 30 teams playing in either the Echo Junior or Chelmsford Youth Leagues. He remains as Chairman of a club who, in June 2016, celebrated 50 years of football.
To find out more about volunteering opportunities within grassroots Essex football, browse the 'Volunteers' menu above, follow @EssexCountyFA on Twitter and search for ‘EssexFootball’ on Facebook.