Burgess Hill football coach talks about winning Mid Sussex Applauds trophy for 25 years of dedication

Mid Sussex Applauds 2021 is open for nominations until the end of July as it celebrates local heroes for a third year.

Monday, 14th June 2021, 4:58 pm

The annual awards programme recognises people, groups and organisations who have gone above and beyond to serve the Mid Sussex community.

Tony Bristow, 60, from Burgess Hill won last year’s Good Sport Award (sponsored by Places Leisure) for his outstanding contribution to Southdown Football Club.

Until his retirement, just before the Covid pandemic struck, Tony volunteered at the club for more than 25 years, half the time that it has been running.

Tony Bristow won the Good Sport Award in the Mid Sussex Applauds 2020
Tony Bristow won the Good Sport Award in the Mid Sussex Applauds 2020

However, he said that getting an award was the last thing on his mind.

“I was astounded that people thought I was worthy of getting an award by doing something I was enjoying,” said Tony, who lives in Noel Rise with his wife.

But he said he was proud of what he had achieved and he was pleased to find out that both his fellow volunteers and other parents had nominated him.

Tony also said the Mid Sussex Applauds are a great way to recognise the people who have made a difference.

He said that he had helped turn Southdown Football Club into a popular, family orientated place where children could play football and take part in all the social aspects of the game.

“We arranged social events, little tournaments and things like that,” said Tony, adding that he was most proud of helping children develop as individuals, not just footballers, and building their confidence on and off the pitch.

“It’s the ones that will probably never be great footballers but come along because they enjoy it,” he said, talking about the rewards of coaching young people.

Sport is not just about fitness and wellbeing, it is a team activity that teaches children important social skills, said Tony.

“I’ve seen children change from being very shy when they first come along to becoming quite outgoing,” he said.

An insurance broker in his professional life, Tony started volunteering with the club in 1998, overseeing the minor section, which caters to children aged four to eight.

Since then he has coached hundreds of young people and became chairman in 2014.

Tony said he got involved after taking his son, who was five at the time, to play football at the club.

“That first year was quite cold and wet,” said Tony, adding that he was approached by one of the coaches.

“He said ‘instead of standing around, why don’t you help out with the coaching?’ and then that was it,” said Tony.

Normally parents who volunteer tend to leave the club when their children do, but Tony said he wanted to give something back.

“I think they gave my son a great opportunity,” he said.

“He met lots of different people from all walks of life and it developed him as a person.”

Tony’s advice to anyone who wants to be a coach is to ‘just take the plunge’ because there are many rewards to volunteering.

“A kid saying at the end of his training session ‘thank you, I really enjoyed that’ or coming over to shake your hand, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

One of the people who nominated Tony was club welfare officer Emma Fernley, 49, who lives in Burgess Hill with her husband and son.

She said Tony was ‘an amazing supporter of the club’ and praised his dedication to working every Saturday ‘come rain or shine’.

“He’s put a lot into making Southdown the inclusive, friendly club it is today,” she said, adding that he convinced other parents to get involved themselves.

Emma said she was pleased for Tony when he won the award and happy that Mid Sussex Applauds continues to recognise volunteers.

“There are so many different clubs out there for old and young that rely on volunteers being at the helm,” said Emma.

“To recognise the effort that those people put in, it’s really important.”

The Mid Sussex Times is proud to be media partner of Mid Sussex Applauds.

Everyone who lives or works in Mid Sussex is entitled to be nominated. 

Find out more at www.midsussex.gov.uk or read our overview story here.