MBE award 'humbling' for former Dungannon Swifts boss Joe McAree
He has been involved in local football for over 40 years – and now Joe McAree has a very special fixture to look forward to.
The former Dungannon Swifts manager, who has worked tirelessly for football in the South Tyrone community, has been awarded an MBE in The Queen's New Year Honours List.
It is a fitting honour for one of the sport's most recognisable and popular figures.
In the New Year he will be away to the Palace – Buckingham Palace that is – to collect his award from Her Majesty.
Mr McAree said he was humbled and honoured by the accolade.
"It is a lovely surprise – I feel so humbled that someone has thought I have done something for the community to merit being put forward for this honour," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"The award is not just for myself but for the very many good people and volunteers who have worked with me down the years.
"You achieve nothing without good people and I have had 50 or 60 who have worked tirelessly.
"I remember the early days when I went knocking on people's doors. Some of those people were still with me 15 years, even 20 years later."
Mr McAree's association with local football goes back to 1972, when he was appointed manager of Dungannon Swifts' third team.
When the reserve team's manager quit in mid-season he was promoted to the role.
At the end of the season, he was made first team manager.
It was the first of several spells in charge of his beloved hometown club.
The most recent began in 2001, and saw him guide the side into the top division of local football for the first time.
After achieving a respectable mid-table position in their debut season, Dungannon went on to secure two fourth-placed finishes, a remarkable achievement for a small club.
Mr McAree's work provided the foundations for Dungannon's most successful period, which included reaching the 2007 Irish Cup final, where they lost on penalties to Linfield, and competing in Europe and the Setanta Cup.
Since stepping down in 2006, Mr McAree has devoted much of his time and attention to Dungannon United Youth.
The youth system now has 14 teams and over 300 children and teenagers on its books.
Among the players who have progressed through the youth system are Joe's son Rodney, who joined Liverpool in the 1990s, and Niall McGinn, currently starring for Aberdeen.
Mr McAree is rightly proud of his contribution to football in Dungannon.
"I remember the old days when we had a field and two goal posts," he added. "We worked hard and we did things one at a time.
"We got in a fence one year, a new pitch the next. Then we got a stand, floodlights etc.
"It has taken a fantastic effort by everyone to get us to where we are today. We have a lovely stadium and fantastic facilities.
"The youth structure is the future for our club – we recognised that long before any other clubs."
Mr McAree said the opening of the state-of-the-art youth facilities in 2006 was one of two highlights from the last 40 years.
Aside from his 20 years as manager of the Swifts in various spells, Mr McAree has also held several backroom positions, including chairman and community relations officer.