MERV Bignell said he was ‘one happy bunny’ after receiving The FA Long Service Award.
The 65-year-old, who has been involved with Hadleigh United for 50 years, was presented with his award by Suffolk FA Chief Executive Richard Neal at the club’s FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round tie at home to Mildenhall Town on Saturday.
Merv, who lives in Hadleigh, said: “I didn’t know about the award until club secretary Neil Henderson told me last week.
“When I found out I was so pleased – I didn’t think an award like this would be presented to me. I’m so proud to receive this award from The FA and am one happy bunny.
“I love to watch Youth football at grassroots level. It’s great to see boys and girls enjoying playing football and is why have I been involved for so long – it’s the love of the game and meeting players and supporters of different teams.”
Merv (pictured above) began his football journey with Hadleigh Hotspurs at the tender age of 12 in 1969, before joining Hadleigh United aged 15 three years later.
He played for the ‘A’ team and Reserves before making his first-team debut at the age of 17 in 1974 against Wetheringsett.
In the early years Merv played in virtually every position on the pitch before becoming a very accomplished goalkeeper.
He has also played for Brantham Athletic, Bildeston Rangers and Elmsett United.
At the age of 47 Merv won a Suffolk Senior Cup winners’ medal and a Suffolk Junior Cup runners-up medal in the same week at Portman Road!
He was named as substitute goalkeeper, although he never got onto the pitch, for both the first and Reserve team squads who had reached their respective finals in the 2003-04 season.
Merv combined all of this with being a retained Fireman and First Responder in the local community.
He took up the position of club physio once he hung up his gloves and latterly combined that with being head groundsman at the Millfield.
He stood down from his role as physio at the end of the 2021-22 season but remains as the club’s head groundsman.
A Hadleigh United man through and through, Merv epitomises what it means to be a grassroots volunteer and everyone connected with the club realises the huge amount of time and effort that he has put into the club over the years and are indebted to him for his continued efforts.
Suffolk FA Chief Executive Richard Neal said: “The grassroots game is built on people like Mervyn, who give up untold amounts of time, resource, and energy just so that other people can do what they love. To be involved for 50+ years, you have to be a special, selfless character and that is exactly what Merv is.
“Even the presentation was an example of Merv’s humility; not wanting the spotlight on him for too long he was on and off the pitch in no time, keen to redirect the attention to the match and allow the game to begin as soon as possible.
“The amount of work he continues to undertake at Hadleigh is incredible, especially on something as important as the playing surface.
“He’s a special gentleman and it was my privilege to present this award on behalf of The FA, Suffolk FA, Hadleigh United, and all others who Merv has helped to play the beautiful game.”
Photograph: Hannah Parnell