By Tony Dewhurst

Proud Chris McDonald was the toast of the town after lifting the Every Player Counts National Player of the Year award at the Grass Roots Football Show at Birmingham's NEC.

The Every Player Counts scheme is a leading project of The Football League Trust and supported by The Football Pools, delivering a three-year disability scheme to develop football opportunities for people with all types of disability.

The 19-year-old, captain of Northampton Town's multi-disabled team, landed the Midlands prize before an emotional Chris picked up the countrywide award from England's 1966 World Cup legend and Football Pools ambassador Roger Hunt.

Chris said: "This is such a great honour - football is my life and to be recognised in this way is so special.

"I've had an incredible year and this has made me so proud."

The Every Player Counts title crowned a remarkable double achievement for Chris, who has been selected for the East Midland Cerebral Palsy Elite squad.

Chris' father Dave said: "He works incredibly hard and this award will mean everything to him.

"Two of his coaches, Russell Lewis and Kevin Rootes, have done an awful lot to help Chris, so it is a reward for all their hard work too."

Football League Trust spokesman Mike Evans said: "For this year's Player of The Year awards we received some incredible applications.

"Having met Chris at various football and Duke of Edinburgh events I was aware of his fantastic enthusiasm and dedication, and was secretly crossing my fingers that the panel would make Chris an award.

"To be our National winner, out of over 10,000 participants in the Every Player Counts project is a superb achievement and I'm sure Chris will be a great ambassador, and inspiration to many others to get involved."

Former England boss Graham Taylor, who was a special guest at the Grass Roots show, said: "We say football is our national game, but you have to come to events like this to realise what football means to so many people.

"Nobody thinks about kids in wheelchairs or blind people playing football, and these are the unsung heroes of the game."

The three-day Grass Roots event saw fans entertained by coaching sessions, demonstrations and displays with special guests including Robbie Savage, Dion Dublin, Peter Taylor, Chris Hughton and Iain Dowie.

Dowie, the former Queens Park Rangers and Crystal Palace boss, who took part in the powerchairs session, said: "It never ceases to amaze me when you come to this event and see what people have overcome and what joy they have in life.

"I drove one of the power wheelchairs on the court and it was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. I couldn't get near the ball!"

Dowie added: "Football sometimes gets wrapped up in itself and doesn't understand the great effect it can have.

"I saw it with my own eyes how crucial it is to invest in schemes that help the disabled or people with mental health issues."

William Swailes, from Carlisle United, won the North West prize - and he celebrated by landing a call-up for England's Mencap squad for this summer's European Championships in Switzerland.

Martin Griffiths, from Swansea City, made it a double for the Welsh club, who were recently promoted to the Premier League, by winning the South West prize.

Samantha Hoare, from Milton Keynes Dons, was the winner in London and the South East, while Bradford City's Andy North lifted the Yorkshire and North East award.

Patricia Talarek, from Crewe Alexandra, picked up the special Every Player Counts 'Unsung Hero' prize for her marvellous work with the Mental Health scheme at Gresty Road.

World Cup winner Roger Hunt said: "The community departments at clubs across the country are doing a fantastic job encouraging participation and the awards are recognition of all the hard work that all of them has put in this year.

"I'm proud to be an ambassador for the Football Pools who have made an astonishing contribution towards Every Player Counts."