FOOTBALL was honoured in three categories at the West Suffolk Sports Awards 2019.
Mildenhall-based referee Abi Byrne scooped two awards – Sports Personality of the Year and Individual Performance of the Year – and Lakenheath manager Ben Cowling won the Community Volunteer of the Year award.
The awards, which were organised by Abbeycroft Leisure and sponsored by Bury St Edmunds brewers Greene King, were held at St Edmundsbury Cathedral on Tuesday evening.
Abi (pictured above) has enjoyed an outstanding 12 months including receiving an invitation from FIFA to be on their current list of international referees for 2019 – the fist female official from Suffolk to be accepted by FIFA.
She was also appointed to referee for the Women’s FA Cup Final between Manchester City and West Ham United at Wembley Stadium in early May, receiving high praise for her performance.
The 27-year-old said: “I was just happy to receive a nomination, so to win two awards is a little crazy. It is not something that I was expecting at all.
“It has come as a massive shock as I was not even aware of the West Suffolk Sports Awards prior to being nominated, so just to get shortlisted and an invite to attend would have been enough.
“For a referee to win an award, rather than a player, is a massive step for all those involved in refereeing.”
Ben (pictured below) has made an outstanding contribution to Lakenheath Football Club in the past 12 months.
As well as being first-team manager, Ben took it upon himself to apply for funding on behalf of the club for grants towards ground improvements.
As a result the club received a fantastic £52,929 of investment from the Football Foundation towards three different projects, including the installation of floodlights at The Nest, home of the Thurlow Nunn League Division One North club.
On the field of play, Ben guided Lakenheath to a very respectable fifth-placed finish in their first season in Division One North of the Thurlow Nunn League last season.
Ben, who was unable to attend the evening, said: “The award is really recognition of the efforts of a band of volunteers who have wanted to improve facilities and offer opportunities to young people within their community.
“It has been a pleasure to be able to play my part in that achievement and the progression within the club has been phenomenal over the past 18 months.
“To see our newly-created under-18s playing in the FA Youth Cup as well as hosting Ipswich Town U16s brings a great sense of pride to us all.
“There is lots more work to be done and many more funds to be raised as we look to fulfil the club’s ambitions and become an even bigger community asset.
“Hopefully this shows others what can be achieved and we can see more investment into clubs, facilities and opportunity within our region over the coming years.”
Two stalwart volunteers of football leagues in west Suffolk were in attendance after being shortlisted for awards.
Stewart Chapman, who was involved with the Bury & District Sunday League for more than 20 years, was shortlisted in the Unsung Hero category.
Bill Tinkler, who carried out duties including player registrations, fixtures, Press officer and webmaster for the now defunct St Edmundsbury League for 20 years, was shortlisted in the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Suffolk FA Chief Executive Richard Neal said: “Although individually recognised, each of the shortlisted individuals represent a group of people who have and continue to give so much to the local game.
It’s so pleasing to see their efforts, dedication and talent acknowledged at such a prestigious celebration of sport in West Suffolk.”