Leeds United loving Premier League legend gets 'richly deserved' MBE in Queen's Birthday Honours
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The Liverpool ace has been recognised for his services to association football and to charity, thanks to his long and distinguished career in the game and the work of the The James Milner Foundation.
Milner, 36, has won three Premier League titles, two FA Cups and a Champions League with Manchester City and Liverpool, having started his career with his hometown club Leeds.
The Horsforth lad joined the Leeds United academy at 10 after starring for Westbrook Juniors, playing above his own age group. He made his first-team debut for the Whites aged 16 years and 309 days and went on to make 53 senior appearances before the club’s 2004 relegation required him to be sold to Newcastle United.
Since playing 48 Premier League games in the colours of the club he supported as a boy, Milner has gone on to reach 588 top-flight appearances, playing for Newcastle, Aston Villa, Manchester City and the Reds. He has also been capped 61 times for England, for whom he scored just once. Milner is often cited as a prime example of how a footballer should conduct themselves on and off the field.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp recently revealed just how key to their success the versatile veteran has been.
“He’s a role model,” said the German. “I have told him, I can tell the whole world – nothing we have achieved in the last few years would have happened without James Milner, it’s as easy as that.
“Whether he was on the pitch or not, he set standards in a way not a lot of people can set standards, and it educated all of us.”
The character and leadership that has become Milner’s trademark was evident long before he made it to Anfield, though.
“When he came in at Leeds, when I was made captain, it felt straight away like he had something about him,” Milner’s ex-Leeds team-mate Dom Matteo told the YEP. “He was above his years, already a man even though he was still growing up. He was absorbing everything we tried to tell him and we knew it was a special talent. He wanted to get the best out of himself and everything.
“He still loves Leeds, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from, it was just unfortunate he had to leave before he probably wanted to.”
Matteo has continued to count upon Milner as Mr Reliable years after they shared a dressing room.
“He’s a formidable guy, what a fella,” said the ex-Reds and Whites defender.
“When I was in hospital, the messages he was sending me were inspirational. I’m so glad he’s got the MBE, it’s so richly deserved. He’s a role model we all need to look up to. He’s the real role model, the best I’ve had the grace of working with. He’s lived his life cleanly, a family man, he does so much for charity under the radar and he still has a laugh - he takes the mick out of the Boring James Milner thing himself, which I think is brilliant. He’s happy doing what he does.
“I know I could ring him today and ask for a favour and I know he would do it. I can’t speak highly enough of him.
“He’s an ambassador for football but not just the game. The MBE probably should have been a bit sooner but I’m really happy for him.”
Milner’s footballing success forms only part of the justification for his becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire. He set up The James Milner Foundation in 2011 in order to promote health and fitness for the country’s young people and to help provide both prevention and relief of poverty.
Through annual charity balls and various fundraising initiatives the foundation has supported the NSPCC, Blood Cancer UK, Help for Heroes and the MND Association.
Chris James, director of external affairs at the MND Association told the YEP that Milner’s desire to help has made an impact on their fight to raise awareness of the disease.
“We are delighted to hear that James Milner has been awarded an MBE for services to association football and charity,” he said.
“James and The James Milner Foundation have generously committed their time and efforts to raise vital funds and awareness of motor neurone disease, a devastating disease which affects around 5,000 people in the UK at any one time with a third of people dying within a year of diagnosis.
“I feel privileged to have attended two fundraising balls hosted by the Foundation and it was clear James is extremely passionate about making a difference for people with MND.
“This generous support has also extended to families affected by the disease, with The James Milner Foundation helping to fund a professional counselling service as part of its commitment to support children and young people affected by MND. On behalf of the MND Association, I would like to say thank you and a huge congratulations to James Milner MBE and his family.”
Tolu Osinnowo, partnerships manager for the NSPCC sports board highlighted Milner's decade of involvement with their campaigns.
“We are absolutely delighted that James has been awarded an MBE," she said.
"Everyone recognises what an excellent footballer he is but fewer people may know what a loyal supporter he has been to the NSPCC and the difference he has made to children’s lives.
“James has supported the NSPCC for over 10 years. In particular, James has visited primary schools in Liverpool to help support the charity’s ‘Speak Out Stay Safe’ programmes in order to help raise awareness of abuse and safeguarding among children. Altogether, £340k has been raised through James’ personal foundation to help fund the ‘Speak Out Stay Safe’ service and over 100,000 children have been reached through his support.
“James has also been a supporter of our Child Protection in Sport Unit and our campaign to reach out to parents of young people in sport during our annual Parents in Sport Week. This is a crucial campaign designed to help parents understand the key role they play when ensuring their children have a fun and safe experience when playing sport. What a great guy and what a good friend of the NSPCC.”
One of the ways in which Milner and his wife Amy have partnered with charities is through their galas and Tom Tyler, head of philanthropy at Blood Cancer UK, has lauded their contribution to the cause.
"The generosity and kindness of James and his wife Amy through the James Milner Foundation has been incredible, and we’re thrilled that James has been recognised with an MBE," he told the YEP.
"The Foundation has had a huge impact for children and families affected by blood cancer, supporting the work of Blood Cancer UK for nearly 10 years and providing more than £330,000 for research into the causes of blood cancer and the development of new treatments. Their annual gala is an absolute joy; a shining example of what can be achieved by kind-hearted people for good causes."
Meanwhile Milner's fellow ex-Leeds player Rio Ferdinand has also been honoured with an OBE for his activism and charity work.