FOOTBALL league pioneer The Reverend Kip Watson was last night crowned the outstanding Local Hero of 2001. Kip was presented with the prestigious award at The Northern Echo Local Heroes Awards 2001 at a packed Tall Trees Hotel, near Yarm.

The event, co-sponsored by Darlington Building Society and Century FM, is the most glittering occasion of the year for grass roots sport in the North-East.

Kip won the award for his vision in launching an over-40s football league in Sunderland in 1980.

The league, which started with just six teams, has blossomed into a 64-team competition, with five divisions and well over 1,500 players from Teesside to Morpeth.

Despite suffering a stroke two years ago and now being 83, Kip still acts as secretary of the league and attends matches whenever he can.

Peter Barron, editor of The Northern Echo, said: "Kip personifies everything we were looking for in a Local Hero selfless dedication to the love of grass roots sport."

More than 500 people packed into the hotel, with grass roots sport competitors rubbing shoulders with famous faces from the world of professional sport.

As well as staging "The Oscars of Grass Roots Sport", the event featured a charity auction in aid of Sports Aid Northern and an hilarious Sporting Quiz (They Wish It was All Over) hosted by Paul "Goffy" Gough from Century FM and starring Richmond's world swimming gold medallist Nicola Jackson; Olympic athlete Jared Deacon; Durham and England cricketers Simon Brown and Michael Gough; ex-Durham captain Michael Roseberry; new Darlington manager Tommy Taylor; Darlington FC chairman George Reynolds; and Tyne Tees Television's sports presenter Jeff Brown.

An incredible range of sports was covered by the nominations from Local Heroes readers from darts to water polo, alpine skiing to gymnastics, ice hockey to wheelchair tennis.

* Don't miss next Friday's Local Heroes supplement for a special pull-out on the biggest and best awards night in the world of grass roots sport.

* Commemorative photographs from the event can be purchased by calling our photosales department on (01325) 381313 or on-line at