Eric Brown has been named the 2021 Emeritus Award winner following more than five decades of exceptional volunteering at badminton courts across the country.
The prize, part of the Sport & Recreation Awards, recognises volunteers in the sporting sector who have dedicated their lives to helping to get the nation active.
And having fulfilled nigh-on every role possible on the badminton scene since the early 1960s, Eric – who turned 80 in February – is certainly a fitting recipient.
A former maths teacher, Eric has consistently championed opportunities for youngsters to get involved in the sport in a variety of roles, instigating the Youth Commission and including young people on the advisory boards he has chaired.
Eric was Chair of the English Schools Badminton Association for 20 years until the Association was incorporated into Badminton England, when he became Chair of the Schools and Youth Board, a role he continued to fulfil until his retirement from the main board two years ago.
He remains active as a referee and continues to mentor young officials as they make their way into the game, while he was crucial to the development of the Masters programme at the other end of the age spectrum.
“I’m very proud,” Eric said. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done within badminton, but also very honoured and humbled.
“I’m grateful to my close friends, as well as the parents and players. I’m also hugely grateful to Badminton England and particularly the staff, who are very supportive – they always have been.
“I consider them as paid volunteers and they are so dedicated to their jobs. Without their support, I couldn’t have done any of it.
“I just love the sport. I didn’t enjoy playing so much but I enjoy working with the players and the badminton family. It really is one big family and I’ve made so many friends through it.”
Keen on a variety of sports, Eric did not have a badminton background but came into the game by chance when in search of after-school activities for his pupils.
“I looked in the shed and there was a cupboard full of badminton rackets, so I thought I’d start a club,” he said.
“I had to learn the game myself while teaching pupils at the same time. It gradually grew from there and it became my winter sport.
“I got involved on the volunteering side in about 1964 and, along with a few others, created a junior club which produced four full-time internationals and several junior champions.”
From there, Eric moved into tournament organisation – alongside various other guises – and he has played an integral role in running the Inter-Counties Tournament since 1968.
During Eric’s leadership of the event, it grew from just ten counties participating to over 40 and still attracts over 30 counties annually, including representatives from Ireland and Scotland.
More than 15,000 junior players have competed along the way, including every English player to have featured at an Olympic Games, and Eric has watched their journeys with pride.
“They know you personally, you know them personally, their successes and failures are your successes and failures,” he said.
“You live every moment and get to understand what makes them tick. I’m not saying I had anything to do with their coaching but I’m proud of them all.
“It’s great to see them go on and perform on the big stage and then later on in life, you might see them again when play in the Masters.”
Eric may be Haringey born and bred – he still lives in the borough and ‘was a Spurs fan until badminton got in the way’ – but he has been heavily involved in Essex badminton throughout his time in the sport.
He retains a role as President of Essex County Badminton Association and is an active member in the county, running tournaments and supporting junior development as his volunteering shows no sign of slowing down.
“It keeps me alert,” he said. “The sport has done well since lockdown eased and some tournaments are over-subscribed as people want to get back to badminton, which is so pleasing.
“My life has been enhanced by volunteering and Badminton England is a great organisation to have been involved with.”