THACKLEY stalwart Stewart Willingham has been at the club for over 50 years, so it was about time he was properly recognised for all of his hard work.

Earlier this month, Willingham was surprised with an FA Long Service award ahead of the Dennyboys' Yorkshire Trophy home game against Albion Sports.

Joining the club as a committee member in December 1970, he became club secretary just six weeks later, a role he held until 2007.

But he didn't leave Thackley after that, and he continues to volunteer there to this day.

Speaking to the T&A, Willingham said: "It wasn't just a surprise to get the FA award, it was a shock, because people don't do this kind of thing for 50 years unless they enjoy it.

"So I've essentially been given an award for enjoying myself.

"Once I got over the shock, it was a very pleasant feeling."

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Stewart Willingham's letter from the FA, thanking him for his years of dedicated service to Thackley.Stewart Willingham's letter from the FA, thanking him for his years of dedicated service to Thackley.

But Willingham does not want to take all of the glory, saying: "I didn't do it all on my own.

"That's what I was most concerned about when I got the award, because there's a group of us that have been together for years at this club, and we call ourselves the "Thackley old gits".

"The biggest thing that has happened in our time was buying the land for Dennyfield back in 1982.

"We were already playing there, but we leased it from the Council, but then they said they were selling the land so we'd have to buy it if we wanted to keep playing there.

"We paid £13,000 for it, with half in grants and the rest by our four-then trustees."

Asked about his favourite memories at Thackley, Willingham said: "The biggest one was accepting Barcelona's request to train at our ground in 1975 (ahead of a European Cup semi-final against Leeds).

"When I took the call from their representative, I thought it was one of our lads messing around, so I told him to p**s off and put the phone down.

"But it was great to have them here in the end.

"We've won the County Cup a couple of times and the NCEL League Cup a couple of years in a row.

"I can't say we've excelled at winning things in my time here, but that makes those times we have done more special."

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Stewart Willingham's long-service medal from the FA.Stewart Willingham's long-service medal from the FA.

The stalwart is the club's hospitality host, where he welcomes opposition officials pre, during and post-match in the Willingham Suite, named after himself and his late wife June.

Willingham admitted: "It gives me great pride, because that was June's area.

"She took pride in making sure people were looked after in there.

"And she loved referees, looking after them especially. If we ever watched Match of the Day and there was an ex-ref of ours on there she'd get all excited."

Willingham admitted: "I couldn't imagine life without volunteering at Thackley.

"I live on my own now, and while you get used to that, the club plays a massive part in my life.

"I'm there most days, sometimes I'll even just invent reasons to go, because there's always something that could be done."

And Willingham is happy with where the club is at right now, saying: "I couldn't be more proud.

"Six or seven years ago, those of us that have been here for years, Geoff Scott, Steve Paley and Ed and Mary Williams, we just thought, all being over 70, what would happen to the club if we go?

"But (chairman) Ben (Oliver) came in and he's the best thing that could have happened.

"It's almost been a reincarnation of us older ones, with Ben bringing his "young gits" to work with us.

"It's given us all a new lease of life, and they (the younger ones) deal with lots that we wouldn't have thought of.

"In Covid for example, there were grants available, that we wouldn't have even thought to apply for, but they did and helped the club out.

"They do such a good job, and just leave us older ones to deal with things like the kit.

"We're all retired now, but we just want to help where we can.

"It's a great team we've got at Thackley."