Belper Town’s night out hails fans’ favourite Eric Graves

PLAYER OF THE YEAR -- Eric Graves, who was the choice of manager Charlie Palmer (left) and also of the fans.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR -- Eric Graves, who was the choice of manager Charlie Palmer (left) and also of the fans.

The loudest cheers of the night were reserved for dual player-of-the-year winner Eric Graves when more than 100 people gathered for Belper Town’s end-of-season presentation night at the Marston’s Stadium.

After making his 500th non-league appearance in the Derbyshire FA Senior Cup final against Alfreton Town, Graves was the choice of manager Charlie Palmer. And he also took the top player accolade voted for by fans through the Belper News.

The awards were greeted raucously by Nailers supporters, which was a testimony to the admiration everyone in the game has for the Belper skipper. He was also selected by opposition managers for the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League (NPL), Division One South team of the year.

Palmer presented all the first-team awards, starting with the young player of the year, which went to Laurence Constable, who made the transition from U21 football to the NPL look ridiculously easy. He integrated seamlessly and his overall game developed rapidly.

The goal of the season honour was won by Rob Stevenson, whose superb individual effort at Coalville Town in January warmed the hearts of Nailers supporters on a bitterly cold afternoon. Picking the ball up on the halfway-line, he forced his way past three challenges before firing in an unstoppable shot from 25 yards into the top corner.

The goalscoring charts were topped by Alex Steadman, who hit 24 despite only joining Belper in November, overhauling the exploits of Evan Garnett, who moved to National League side Kidderminster Harriers in January.

The players’ player of the year viting resulted in a tie between midfield playmaker Johno Williams and Phil Watt, both of whom deserved credit for therir consistency and loyalty.

Club chairman Alan Benfield welcomed guests to the event and paid tribute to the work of Palmer and his management team. He also expressed delight at the successful integration of the academy and U21 teams in their debut seasons.

For the academy, who narrowly missed out on the league title, defender Sam Weston won the NPL Academy League player of the season accolade. Manager Tom Donlon’s player of the year was Josh Craddock.

For the U21s, the player of the year was midfielder Mason Barker.