A well-known figure in Melton football has been honoured by the Football Association for devoting half-a-century to the grassroots game.
Graham Parker received the 50-year award for service to local football last Thursday, along with fellow East Midland Counties League officers Dave Lumley and Dave Holland.
It was a well-timed moment to receive the accolade, with Graham having just announced his retirement as vice-chairman at the league’s annual meeting.
“Most of the time it’s been a bit of a hobby; I’ve found it rewarding,” he said. “If you didn’t like it you wouldn’t do it.
“I was a good steady footballer, but when I finished with Methodist United I felt like I should put something back into football.
“I wanted to give local lads the chance to play football at a reasonable level and that’s what I tried to do,”
His first forays into the Melton football scene came, fittingly, in 1966, a landmark year for English football, when he joined Holwell Works youth team under the management of Jimmy Learmouth and Bill Caithness.
Graham went on to join newly-formed town club Methodist United, and spent 20 years there getting a grounding in all aspects of club football, graduating from player to assistant manager, secretary, manager, treasurer, and groundsman.
He returned to his beloved Holwell Sports in 1988, when the club’s most successful manager Jeff Gibbon invited his trophy-laden Long Clawson Kings youth team to become their reserves side.
As well as managing Holwell’s reserves, he also took charge of the first team as caretaker for three games, but again perhaps his most telling contribution came away from the sidelines.
He wore the hats of committee member, vice-chairman, chairman, secretary, and groundsman, and for an intense spell juggled three positions at the same time.
But the legacy he is perhaps most proud is helping to develop the ground, jobs which included erecting floodlights as well as more mundane duties.
“When I walked through the gate at Holwell, Jeff asked if I would be interested in bringing the boys up to our reserve side,” he added.
“I agreed and he said ‘you’ve got the job, now can you paint?’
“Before I knew it I had a tin of green paint in my hand and was painting the stand.”
In 2011 he left to join the management committee of the newly-formed East Midland Counties Football League as Ground Grading Officer, and latterly vice-chairman.
English football has been transformed at every level, and many times during his 52 years, and Graham believes the ongoing restructure at grassroots is a necessary challenge.
He reflected: “Years ago every village had a football team and there was a Melton league, but they’ve all gone and you have to ask the question why.
“One of the troubles grassroots football has is that young people aren’t coming through to take on the mantle.
“If you go up to Holwell on a Saturday morning, everyone there getting the ground ready will be over the age of 60.
“But football in Melton is good at the moment. We have the re-emergence of Melton Town, what’s going on at Asfordby is superb and a breath of fresh air, and Holwell have carried on as it has for years at that level.”
While standing down from his league duties, at least for now, Graham will still be a regular face at football, as a spectator with his wife Linda, and he also remains on the Melton Mowbray Charity Cup Management Committee.
“I’m not going to say that I will never go back again (to the EMCL),” he added. “But I’m taking a bit of time out to enjoy watching football with Linda and spend more time with the grandkids.
“I shall still be down at Holwell and hope to see some good football up there and at Melton.”