A dedicated volunteer at Cheshunt FC has won the experience of a lifetime for his efforts volunteering at his beloved non-league club.

Howard Bailey, a retired senior operations manager from Earls Barton, was shocked to find he had been named Pitching In Volunteer of the Season for his outstanding dedication to the Isthmian Premier League side.

The prize sees Howard, 61, and son Luke, 25, head to Dublin for the UEFA Europa League final, with flights, two nights’ accommodation, a training session with legendary football ambassadors and the opportunity to play on the pitch all part of a momentous trip.

“I was sitting on the sofa next to my dog, everybody else had gone to work at home and the club secretary called me to explain that I’d won,” said Bailey.

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“It’s a great honour but I recognise that I'm very fortunate, so thank you to everybody that contributed to me even being considered for the award in the first place.

“I'm somebody that likes to operate in the shadows and just deliver things, being in the limelight isn't one of my fortes.”

Bailey joined the committee at Cheshunt in 2010 shortly after Luke started playing for the club’s junior teams and found volunteering a great way to stay active.

Since then he has fulfilled all manner of roles such as communications officer, operating the club tannoy system on match days, covering the role of club secretary and chipping in with the odd painting job.

This season, Bailey has been the driving force behind the club's mental health and wellbeing initiative, partnering the club with the NHS, Herts MIND, and Herts Samaritans to ensure the club has a positive understanding of the issues of good mental health and well-being.

Through the initiative, mental health experts have delivered presentations to players and their families, while local surgeries are encouraging people to attend matches or to participate in the club’s walking football teams.

“We recognise that mental health amongst young men isn't particularly good and it could be better,” said Bailey.

“There are guys that are struggling to ask for help.

“By opening up the club and opening up our friendship, it gives them an opportunity to look forward to something, get some positives out of life and hopefully, just maybe, the opportunity to talk.”

Pitching In, Entain's grassroots sport Investment programme and sponsor of the Trident Leagues, launched the award to celebrate the thousands of volunteers across the country who dedicate their time to supporting grassroots and non-elite football.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of community football, helping with everything from matchday activities such as manning the turnstiles, stewarding, and catering, to pitch maintenance, ground upkeep or providing administrative and professional support.

Pitching In created the Volunteer Hub to help connect clubs looking for volunteers and fans looking for opportunities to do more – and are now saying thank you to an individual from each of the Trident Leagues and award them with a prize of a lifetime.

As part of the prize, Bailey will take to the Dublin Stadium pitch the day after the final between Atalanta and Bayer Leverkusen, lining up alongside footballing greats Robert Pires and Diego Forlan.

Having travelled a lot for work prior to his retirement four years ago, Bailey is relishing one last action-packed trip while having the chance to share experiences with Pitching In's other award-winning volunteers.

“Dublin is a great city to visit,” Bailey added. “As far as the actual final is concerned, I've never done a European final, so I'm really looking forward to experiencing what should be a fantastic night.

“I’m so delighted to be recognised and I hope the next time people travel to a non-league game, they take a look at all the guys running around making it happen, because there's lots of volunteers up and down the country who do the same thing.”

Ladbrokes, with the support of its owner Entain, has launched a multi-million-pound investment programme, Pitching In, designed to support and promote grassroots sports. For more details see: https://entaingroup.com/sustainability/pitching-in/ and to find volunteering opportunities near you, see: pitchinginvolunteers.co.uk