IF anyone had told Jenny Leyland two months ago that she would be visiting the Palace in 2011 she would have assumed it meant an FA Cup trip to Selhurst Park with her beloved Liverpool FC.

But after being awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list for services to grassroots football Jenny has a date at St James Palace to look forward to.

The honour is a reward for all the hours of voluntary work the mum of two has put into helping local youngsters play the beautiful game over three decades – often in challenging surroundings.

It is not the first time she has been honoured for tireless efforts – her work at Sutton Juniors saw her win coach of the year and the team win Club of the Year at the Cultural Awards held at the World of Glass last year.

But the letter five weeks ago, asking her if she would accept becoming a Member of the British Empire, came like a bolt from the blue.

Jenny, who lives in Newton but has done most of her recent coaching in the Sutton Manor-Clock Face area, said: “I was absolutely gobsmacked when they told me the news - but was sworn to secrecy.

“But since it came out I have been inundated with calls and messages including some sent via the Liverpool County FA from people I have not seen for nine years.

“One of them read ‘It is nice that an award has come to one of us at our level rather than them always going top those at the top of the game.’ “I am really pleased but quite shocked because I have known loads of really good coaches who have never received an award like this.

“I am really delighted with this. I did think ‘why me’ but I suppose it is a reward for all the unpaid hours, travelling, arranging, organising, writing newsletters and seeing parents.

“It is not just me – all of the team work hard, especially my colleague Joan Booth.”

Football was a game for men when Jenny first became involved, and she admitted to catching the soccer bug at a young age.

“My dad took me to Liverpool when I was three and I have been an avid Red ever since and now go all over Europe with them, home and away.

“I started playing when I was 13 or so. It was not heard of back then and there were not many girls or women’s teams,” she said.

Following that she started football coaching, doing her badges with Liverpool County FA, voluntary work with Newton County school for a couple of years before working with the girls football team at Newton High for almost four years.

It helped that daughter Kellie, a Northern Ireland international, and son Christian were also keen footballers – and both received plenty of encouragement from mum.

“I coached teams in the Laffak area before I moved to Newton and was asked to take a boys under 11s belonging to Sunbeam.

“I took some of those players until they were 16 and they are all in their 30s now. I am still in touch with them,” she said.

Although women coaches in football are a rarity – something she believes may have contributed to her earning the MBE – she admits to only occasionally facing opposition due to her gender.

“I once took a team to St Helens Show and it was the first time I encountered any hostility when one coach said, ‘I hope you’re not expecting to do much here today’. Well I told my son, who was playing, not to let me down and we made it to the final.

“But all the teams we had beaten on the way cleared off by the time we played – which was a shame,” said Jenny.

It is not just coaching – Jenny is a qualified physiotherapist and has helped out with Everton Ladies reserves, Burnley girls, Northern Ireland girls and Clock Face under 17s boys.

She is currently the physio at Runcorn Linnets who play in the Vodkat Premier League.

But in January 2008 she rolled her sleeves up to start her biggest challenge, setting up a football academy based in Sutton Manor.

She explained: “Somebody said to me that there was nothing in Sutton Manor and Four Acre for the kids. They are hanging around on the streets and there is nothing for them to do.

“So I thought, ‘right, I will go in there and we will sort out an academy’.

“We hired the Shining Light Centre and we had eight kids at the start.

“Three years on we have now got two teams in the Warrington League and we have the little ones playing as well.

“On top of that we have nine qualified coaches – who are all local lads who we have put through level one coaching, drug awareness and healthy eating courses – anything that will help the kids.

“Unlike a lot of clubs we don’t charge – we are here specifically for the local kids, we want them to play football.”

Talking to Jenny, you get the impression that seeing the fruits of her work blossoming from pitchside is the bit she finds far more pleasurable than any gongs and dates at the Palace.

The club are already looking to build and are seeking year 4, 5 and 6 boys and girls from the Sutton Manor and Clock Face area for September, stressing the youngsters can start training now in preparation.

They are currently training indoors at the Shining Light, Forest Road, Sutton Manor but will be returning outdoors in spring.

Contact Jenny on 07731 554019 for details of how to join as well as the training times and days.