FOOTBALL legend Ian Rush was back on home turf to support the sport at grassroots level.
The former striker visited Hawarden to raise awareness of the Welsh Community Football Awards.
The competition aims to find unsung heroes of community football from across Wales, be they clubs, coaches, players or volunteers.
Ian, who grew up in Flint and went to St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School, told the Leader the support he received in Flintshire was key to his success.
He began his professional career at Chester before finding glory with Liverpool and Wales, and later played for Wrexham.
Ian, 49, said: “I got into football through school and I played for Hawarden Rangers.
“I didn’t have a car so people used to pick me up from Flint and drive me to Hawarden.
“Not everyone’s going to make it to senior level but if you get grassroots coaching right people stand more chance of getting higher. Every level will improve.
“All the organisation takes time – even putting up the goal posts.”
Ian said during times of financial difficulty, volunteers with local football teams were even more important.
“When you see leisure centres being shut down it makes it harder and more help is needed,” he said.
“It’s all about the local community and people being close, if you’ve got a close community you’ve got a happier community.”
The awards are being run by the Welsh Football Trust and McDonald’s.
To launch them, Ian visited the street where he grew up and kicked his first ball, the club where he played his first competitive match and the school he attended before being scouted by Chester FC more than 40 years ago.
He said: “It was a cloudy and cold Saturday morning but, when you see the children running round and the smile on their faces when they score, they don’t mind about the weather.”
The North East Wales FA is asking people to nominate their heroes in categories such as coach, disabled girl and boy and volunteer of the year.
Gus Williams, regional development manager for North East Wales FA, said: “We’d love to see lots of winners coming from the North East Wales region.
“But being nominated would be a fantastic achievement for the clubs and individuals who dedicate their time to the game.”
Ian, who now lives on the Wirral, believes it is important to carry on the community spirit of football through to regional and national level.
He said it is a theory followed by current Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish.
“Kenny has got belief in the players and the backing of supporters. He knows what the club means to everyone.
Ian is also calling on Welsh fans to support the country in its match against England later this month.
He said: “We need to get the public to come and watch Wales.
“If we can keep the crowd active and supporting for 90 minutes then we’ve got a good chance of winning.”
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