Thank you, Greg.
It is with the greatest pleasure that I welcome you all here today. This magnificent home, Buckingham Palace, is at the heart of the nation, and so there cannot be a more fitting setting to celebrate our national game, and to celebrate all of you.
I cannot tell you how excited I am that later today we will be playing football on my grandmother’s lawn. One warning, though: if anyone breaks a window, you can answer to her.
In fact, Her Majesty, who has been the proud Patron of The FA for 61 years, sends her regrets that she cannot join you today. The one small silver lining to Her Majesty not being present today is that there shouldn’t be any corgis running on to the pitch. The beautiful game has changed an awful lot during The Queen’s reign, but it remains the most loved game in the country, most probably the world.
Whilst it is a privilege to be President of The Football Association, if I am honest, for me, the role is more an extension of a personal passion. Football, in particular being a Villa supporter, has brought me a great deal of pleasure over the years. A chance to escape with friends and family and enjoy its virtues – teamwork, competition, endeavour and, more occasionally on my part, skill.
At its best, football is a powerful force for good in society. It binds people from different backgrounds, communities, faiths and abilities – and gives them a common interest, a unifying identity. I believe over its 150 years, football has remained a wonderful example of the power of community and of our ability to come together to organise and to enjoy a simple pastime.
As a nation, we were rightly proud of the volunteer ‘gamesmakers’ who supported last year’s Olympic Games. But for those of us involved in football, this was not a new phenomenon. Grassroots football thrives on the support of its volunteers week after week. You and your colleagues are the original games-makers, and we are all in your debt for it.
Reading through your citations, I don’t think any of you realise quite how impressive what you do is. You change lives, you give people meaning, enjoyment, perspective, a release, an outlet; you bring people together and inject fun, laughter, passion, goals and challenges into others’ lives. It is people like you who make our country what it is. I sincerely hope that you are immensely proud of your efforts and achievements.
Please enjoy today – this event is for you: a thank you from the nation to what you and countless others like you have given freely.
Thank you, and we would now like to call you forward to receive your medals.