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Community hero's Wembley dream

21 January 2013

By Tony Dewhurst

Kenneth Knights' enduring connection with Bradford City's Football in the Community Foundation has proved a happy and fruitful one.

Indeed, his work landed the 61-year-old a special lifetime award last year, in recognition for his work with the club's disability football club.

Kenneth, a Bradford fan for 50 years, was awarded The Football League Trust Every Player Counts Unsung Hero prize in 2012, which recognizes an individual who is truly committed to their community team.

Kenneth, who has been involved with Bradford City's Community Foundation and Bradford Disability Football Club since it started in 2001, has progressed from support worker to assistant coach, and now leads the team that his son Mark plays for.

"It would mean the world to me to see Bradford City at a Wembley cup final, because Bradford and the community scheme has played such a big part in my life and it still does," said Kenneth, ahead of Tuesday's Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at Aston Villa.

"My Dad brought me down to Valley Parade when I was eight - I've had more downs than ups watching City - but to have seen Bradford's disability club grow to what it is today, probably the biggest disability community scheme in the league, makes me incredibly proud.

"We started with a handful of disabled people at a local sports centre, but now a whole community has grown with what we've done here.

"We go out socially, to McDonalds, ten-pin bowling or just for a curry on a Friday night, and there's a special atmosphere and a tremendous sense of camaraderie.

"We meet for training twice a week, and on the other days they all talk on Facebook about what is going on at their club. It is a true community, where everybody gets involved."

With a shock 3-1 first-leg lead, Bradford stand just one game away from history and a Capital One Cup Final at Wembley.

Kenneth added: "Many people have said how the disability football club has helped change their lives. Before some of them were stuck in, with nobody to talk to and now they have got a real focus in life through their love of Bradford City.

"Everywhere we go in the city, they are talking about the cup run - our incredible League Cup journey seems to have brought the club back to life again."

Alongside his commitments as a carer to several players, Kenneth often uses his days off, collecting and dropping players off around the city.

Without his efforts, many of them would not be able to attend the sessions and would miss the physical, health and social benefits of club membership.

Kenneth, who also works full-time for a housing association in the city, said: "It is a great club - it gives me a lot of pleasure to see them getting out and enjoying themselves.

"The most pleasing thing is the way the players work together and support each other.

"It is so rewarding to see them blossom and make new friends through Bradford City's Disability football club."

Bradford's Disability football club is the community scheme's jewel in the crown.

Bradford City's Football in the Community Officer Ian Ormondroyd, who has been in charge since 1999, said: "The Disability football club is the best thing we do.

"It is has got so many people involved, from teenagers to guys in their 60s. It really has created a strong bond and a great atmosphere of achievement.

"Kenneth is just a legend with the players, who often uses his holidays to support the project.

"Without his support the activity would not have the friendly, understanding feel that it does and we feel make our club a better place to be for people with a disability."

Like many inner-cities in England, Bradford faces a high level of social deprivation and that means a constant challenge for the Community Foundation as they bid to spread the football club's message and increase community involvement.

"It is not easy, but there's a terrific amount of stuff going on via our community scheme," added Ormondroyd, a former Aston Villa star.

City have recently enrolled 20 new Futsal scholars and Ormondroyd said: "We've got a lottery grant bid to join Second Half, a project to help people from poor and deprived backgrounds, helping them to improve their lives through involvement in the community.

"We can't forget the next generation of Bradford fans either. For example, primary schools can buy as many tickets as they need for any home league game, costing a £1 for a child and an accompanying adult £5.

"We've had good success with that and you've got to look after people because they are the future lifeblood of Bradford City.

"If we can make it past my old Aston Villa tonight, it will be the greatest day in Bradford City's history."

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