MUCH is written in newspapers about the stars of football and it is their misdemeanours which often make the headlines: nightclub brawls, sex scandals and the like.

But it is important to give credit where it is due and last week's Local Heroes Awards is an example of where that is necessary.

Of all my duties both in and out of the editor's chair, my favourite is hosting the awards, which celebrate the stars of grassroots sport.

This is the night of the year when we put young and old in the spotlight for their sporting achievements, dedication and selflessness. And - if I say so myself - it is a very special occasion.

One of the things which makes it so special is the way it is supported year after year by sporting celebrities. Steve McClaren attended three years running when he was Middlesbrough manager and we thought he'd probably done his bit when he moved on to become England manager.

But there he was, among the 900-plus guests at Hardwick Hall Hotel, near Sedgefield, on Thursday night. And it is my absolute pleasure to report that he was again a credit to his profession - signing autographs and having his picture taken, even in between the courses of his meal. I got a bit worried about whether he was being overwhelmed at one point and we asked his wife Kathryn if he needed rescuing.

"It's why he wanted to come - he feels very strongly that it's part of his responsibilities," was her reply.

His successor as Middlesbrough manager, Gareth Southgate, was just as patient - a gentleman who deserves every success.

Stewart Downing was there too, auctioning some of his most prized possessions - including his World Cup boots - to raise money for cancer research in memory of his sister Vicki who died when she was very young.

Jonathan Woodgate came with his team-mate to show his support. Both of them local lads who have become world stars - inspirational proof of what can be achieved.

Yes, I know they all earn a fortune, and they would be nothing without the fans, so it all has to be kept in perspective. But they played an absolute blinder - I just thought you should know.

THEY say you should never work with children and animals so we were taking a few risks when we presented a Local Heroes award to brothers Tom and Paul Heilbron, from Heighington, near Darlington.

Tom, 15, and Paul 12, nursed a greyhound called Dash back to health after vets suggested he might never walk again. They did such a good job that he won seven races at Wheatley Hill.

The boys walked up to the stage to the song, Who Let The Dog's Out, and Jonathan Woodgate was waiting to present them with their award.

In an operation requiring military-style planning, their granddad had nipped home to collect Dash and produce him from the wings wearing his specially-made Local Heroes jacket.

When we'd first asked Jonathan Woodgate to present an award, he'd been a little reluctant. But when he was told about the boys' story, he agreed. "I'll do it but, you watch, the bloody dog'll either bite me or cock it's leg against me," he said.

With Boro's game against Manchester United just two days away, the nightmare vision of Middlesbrough's world-class defender being mauled by a dog flashed through my mind.

But I'm happy to report that Dash was another celebrity who behaved impeccably.