Having been honoured at Buckingham Palace for his services to football earlier this week, Chelsea disability manager Rob Seale has been speaking with the club’s official website and reflecting on a memorable occasion.
The event, which was hosted by HRH the Duke of Cambridge, and formed part of the Football Association’s 150th anniversary celebrations, saw 150 grassroots heroes rewarded for their hard work and dedication, with Seale specifically selected for his efforts in developing opportunities for disabled people to enjoy sport.
Seale’s work has led to players of all ages and abilities being welcomed into Chelsea Community FC, with the team representing the club in competitive disability league and cups both at home and abroad.
‘It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s something I’ll never forget,’ he says. ‘It was an incredible, but slightly surreal, experience and it still hasn’t properly sunk in.
‘It was totally unexpected and I’ve since found out that all the clubs put people forward but I was one of only eight representatives on the day. The main emphasis was on grassroots volunteers, of which there were only 150 from across the country, which makes it all the more special.
‘The Duke of Cambridge was incredibly down to earth, he spent a lot of his time just wandering around and talking to people, so that was nice. You always hear really positive things about him so to see it for myself was amazing.’
He went on to explain the day’s developments following his arrival.
‘We were welcomed in at about 10am and were invited into a ballroom where the chairman of the FA, Greg Dyke, said a few words,’ he says. ‘Clive Tyldesley from ITV was the man reading out our names as we went up to collect our medals and we were also given a certificate.
‘After that we had a fantastic lunch, which was very welcome, and then we were taken down to the lawn where there was an 11-a-side game going on between two of the FA’s oldest amateur teams – Civil Service FC and Polytechnic FC.
‘At the same time as the game was going on, the FA were holding some coaching sessions with staff from the Palace. Michael Owen was taking part in that and I managed to have a photo taken with him.
‘The whole day was so relaxed and very informal. The weather was spot-on and the setting was absolutely lovely so I really couldn’t have asked for any more.’
For Seale, it was the second time in little over a year that his work has been acknowledged on a grand scale.
Last year he, along with various members of Chelsea Community FC, was selected by Lord Sebastian Coe to carry the Olympic flame through the streets of London ahead of the 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony, another truly unforgettable day.
‘That was obviously a very special,’ he says. ‘We were on the Westminster Abbey route and it was a very special moment in my career. It’s certainly going to be difficult to top the past year in the future.’