SOMETIMES, “lifetime achievement awards” are presented somewhat prematurely – but not in the case of the wonderfully evergreen John Appleton.

At 93 years old, having devoted decades of volunteering to enable youngsters to experience the joys of sport, John is more than worthy of such an accolade.

“I didn’t do it for any recognition – I did it for the kids, that’s all,” said John at the end of this year’s annual Darlington Sports Winners Grand Final.

As he spoke – his newly-polished silver trophy in one hand, and the walking stick that had helped him onto the stage in the other – tears welled up in his eyes.

“It’s completely unexpected but I think it’s one of the best nights of my life,” he added.

John was just one of a long list of winners, young and old, but not one of them would deny he was the star of the event, held at Darlington College and, incredibly, in its 44th year.

“His involvement in local sport touched the lives of thousands of young people, in many cases giving them a lifelong love of sport,” the citation concluded before his name was announced, and the tears began to flow.

John was born on Darlington’s Albert Hill estate, but his family moved to Birmingham when he was two. By the time he was 14, during the Second World War, he was out to work: in a silversmith’s at first, then at a factory building tanks.

“Our house got bombed and so did both of the places where I worked, so I lost two jobs,” he recalled.

The family returned to Darlington and John went on to spend 45 years as a plater with engineering firm Whessoe.

But it was his voluntary service as a youth worker that was his real passion. The communities of Branksome, Skerne Park, Eastbourne and Red Hall were all enriched by John’s devotion right through to his late seventies.

In the 1950s, he started runing table tennis teams and set up a league. He also became manager, trainer and kit-washer of several football teams – five-a-side and 11-a-side – and organised competitions.

Through the sixties, seventies and eighties, his commitment grew. He guided countless youngsters through the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, and helped form clubs in a range of other sports, from basketball to orienteering.

Football and table tennis marathons, spanning 24 hours, were arranged for charity, and he set up a youth “Action Group” to decorate and help maintain the homes of elderly people.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, he also managed to squeeze in being a hospital visitor for 40 years, providing company for those without relatives or friends.

Throughout it all, he was supported by his wife Catherine. They married in 1949 and she passed away six years ago.

“She was without doubt the finest thing to ever come into my life – beautiful, she was,” he said.

Andrew Barker, one of John’s six grandchildren, accompanied him to the awards ceremony and said: “It’s no exaggeration to say he’s devoted his  life to the community. He’s a modest man but we all know how much he deserves this recognition. You couldn’t count the number of lives he’s touched.”

And so, John Appleton, this is to place on record why you so richly deserve your lifetime of achievement award.

Yes, we know you didn’t do it for the recognition, and that you did it for the kids. But that silver trophy couldn’t have gone to a more deserving winner. Thank you.


Primary sports Achiever – Lucy Oliver; Secondary Sports Achiever – Morgan Curtis; Primary School Team Award – St Georges Girls Football Team; Secondary School Team Award  – Hummersknott Badminton Team; Under 11s Team/Club Award – Darlington Spraire Under 10s; Under 17s Team/Club Award – Darlington Spraire Lasses Under 16; Service to Sport Award Over 17 – Neil Smith; Mulheim Trophy – Darlington Spraire lasses Backroom Staff; Lee Vasey Lifetime Achievement Award – John Appleton; Ron Lewis Award – Morgan Curtis; Brian Jones Award – St Georges Girls Football Team; Copeland Trophy – Lucy Oliver; Town Twinning Trophy – Morgan Curtis.

AS guest of honour at the grand final, the Mayor of Darlington, Councillor Nick Wallis, was asked  to include some personal sporting anecdotes in his speech.

Nick admitted he was struggling to come up with anything remotely impressive. However, he did recall the day he played in a dads versus boys primary school cricket match.

“I got hit on the head by a cricket ball and had to retire hurt,” the Mayor announced, proving what a good sport he really is.

IT was also a pleasure to host the Being The Best Awards, celebratiing the stars of County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service.

The evening ended with a poignant tribute to Assistant Chief Fire Officer Dominic Brown who is retiring after 26 years service.

Despite undergoing surgery for a brain  tumour, and still having chemotherapy, Dom has continued to work and inspire his colleagues.

Chief Fire Officer Stuart Errington said: “Despite his illness, he has delivered some fantastic work over the last year...with the same enthusiasm he always had, and a smile on his face, through very challenging treatment.

“I want to thank him for everything he has achieved for the service and the wider community over his illustrious career.”

Dom, pictured below with Stuart Errington, richly deserved the standing ovation he received.

The Northern Echo:

AS a little bit of fun over dinner at the Being The Best Awards, each table was challenged to come up with a collective noun for firefighters.

Entries included a smouldering,  a conflagration, an inferno, an appliance, a plume, a sprinkling, and a blaze.

In the end, the winner was “a gallantry of firefighters”.

Seems entirely appropriate to me.

FINALLY, it was admittedly a bit of a shock the other day to go on The Northern Echo website and see a headline declaring: “Former editor Peter Barron reflects on his 66 years at The Northern Echo.”

I know it looks like I’ve had a hard paper round but, for the record, it’s merely 36 years – and I’m only 57.