BLIND Dave Heeley has been awarded the Freedom of The Hawthorns in recognition of his extraordinary fund-raising achievements on behalf of West Bromwich Albion and the Albion Foundation.
The award was presented to him at a surprise climax to last night’s gala awards dinner at the Club in celebration of the Foundation’s 25th anniversary.
Captain Darren Fletcher and Head Coach Tony Pulis took to the stage to hand over a symbolic “key to The Hawthorns” which guarantees Baggies regular Dave and a carer free passage to Albion games for the rest of his life.
Written in braille on the key was the Club citation explaining Albion’s decision to bestow upon Blind Dave an unprecedented honour.
It read: “In recognition of his extraordinary contribution to The Albion Foundation and West Bromwich Albion FC, the Club is proud and privileged to present Blind Dave Heeley with the Freedom of The Hawthorns.
“It is an award made with enormous gratitude and deep appreciation for his unstinting efforts to champion the Foundation’s fight on behalf of the disadvantaged of our community.
“This honour enables Dave and a partner to be able to attend any game at the Hawthorns for the rest of his life.”
The award was kept secret from the man who in an incredible series of endurance events has completed the equivalent of more than two laps of the Earth raising funds for the Foundation.
He set off on yet another record-breaking challenge earlier this year as he began his attempt to become the first blind man to complete every Great Run in the 2017 series, a challenge set to finish in Ethiopia in November when Dave celebrates his 60th birthday.
Some of his previous efforts saw him cycle 700 miles over seven countries in seven days, complete the gruelling Marathon des Sables through the boiling heat of the Sahara while last year Dave even learned to swim in order to feature in the infamous Escape from Alcatraz triathlon test.
Albion Foundation director Rob Lake estimates Dave’s sponsored feats have now raised six figures for the Foundation’s community programmes.
He said: “This award is a fitting acknowledgement of the man himself and his incredible feats. He is a hugely-inspiring figure for anyone who meets him and his support for the Foundation is unrivalled.”
Martin Goodman, Albion’s CEO and the new chairman of the Foundation’s trustees, said: “We needed something special for a very special person and the board fully backed the idea of Dave being given the Freedom of The Hawthorns.
“I’ve only been at the club a short while but one of the first things I discovered was what a tremendous community programme there is under the Foundation’s direction and Dave’s contribution to that has been extraordinary.
“I know how proud he is to be a Baggie but he should know how proud the club and the community is to count him among their own.”