Coral has kicked off its Football Fan of the Year competition - a search for the ultimate supporter who goes above and beyond for the love of the game.
It could be a superfan whose commitment to their side has reached unprecedented heights. Or, as the first monthly winner shows, a grassroots legend battling to keep their local team going with amazing efforts to raise funds.
Rob Lowndes netted £1,000 after being selected as the monthly winner by Newcastle and England legend Alan Shearer from more than 1,000 entries.
A dedicated Crawley Town supporter, Rob is also closely involved with his local team, Surrey-based Whyteleafe FC. He’ll be putting his prize towards taking a similarly football-mad mate to the European Championship semi-finals and finals.
“To be picked as a monthly winner and to have a chance of being crowned Football Fan of the Year means so much to me,” says railway worker Rob, 54.
“It’s been a tough time for so many people recently, and getting recognition like this is something very special – not just for me, but for all of us at Whyteleafe FC.” A season ticket holder at Crawley Town, Rob is equally passionate when volunteering for his local side.
Like so many clubs across the country, Whyteleafe hasn’t had an easy time thanks to the fallout from coronavirus. But from the beginning of the pandemic, Rob has worked hard to keep Whyteleafe afloat, skippering a team of fundraisers who have brought in more than £4,000 to protect the club’s future.
The volunteers’ efforts have supported the success of Whyteleafe FC, which is based near Croydon. The first team turn out in the Isthmian League South East Division, while the women’s team play in the London & South East Regional Premier Division. There’s a thriving youth section with squads at every level from under-eights to under-18s.
Whyteleafe has hosted games where Government Covid rules have allowed this season, and the first team are currently flying high in their division.
But it wouldn’t have been possible without Rob and his team of volunteers performing a multitude of vital roles – from carrying out track and trace checks for arriving supporters to cleaning and disinfecting the barriers surrounding the pitch.
To help people in his local community keep active, Rob even set up a new weekly football group, which now has more than 100 members. It enables players from all backgrounds to come together and enjoy playing the game.
The group also provides a welcome release in these testing times, when current coronavirus rules suspending matches have had a big impact on local football. “We’ve found ourselves in another lockdown and no one knows how this will affect one of the small grassroots clubs that are close to my heart,” says Rob.
But the evening group has been helpful in keeping people involved in physical activity, and offers emotional support and friendship. And when restrictions ease, the group and club will offer the fun of football again.
As a monthly winner, Rob has a chance to lift the silverware as Coral’s ultimate Football Fan of the Year at the end of the season, and net £10,000 in football prizes. If he wins, he’d like to renovate and modernise Whyteleafe’s changing rooms.
If you’re inspired by Rob’s story and have a tale to match it, Coral wants to hear about it.
Coral is looking for its next winner...
The passion for football comes in many forms and we want to hear about yours. If you know a superfan in your area who deserves to win – it could be yourself! – go to footballfanoftheyear.co.uk and tell us your story.