WHEN you watch the amount of games that I do during a season, both as a fan and as a “reporter”, you meet an awful lot of nice people as well as getting involved in clubs’ various battles.

The year 2005 has been slightly different purely and simply because its been so depressing.

The first half of the playing year saw nearly all Kent sides struggle, and ultimately saw four of them relegated. Fortunately as we get ready to go into 2006, on the field at least the county’s sides are in a great deal better position than even the most optimistic of supporter would have thought possible in August.

Off it however, we are collectively a good worse off after three tragic and untimely death’s during the year rocked the Kent football family! Just in the past month Doug Gillard, the Southern League Chairman, and former Ashford chairman passed away. Back in the early part of the year, the well liked and well loved Alan Lancaster sadly passed away. The former Ashford secretary was so respected that I know of at least one fellow secretary in the County who often spoke to Alan for advice.

Perhaps though the saddest of all our losses occurred on the field of play on Tuesday April 12th at Cheriton Road, when Paul Sykes suddenly died whilst playing for Folkestone against Margate (one of his former clubs, and ironically the club where he made his name). The out pouring of grief resulted in the KCFA deeming that last season’s final would be held in Paul’s memory. The only “problem” with that was that only the players on duty in the Final were able to pay their respects to one of their own.

Looking around Cheriton Road that day, there were so many players of sides not involved in the match in attendance that an idea was born which will finally come to fruition at the end of April 2006. Players that had played with and against Syko, expressed an interest in showing their own appreciation of an old friend. And what better way to do that than on a football field!

And so THE SYKO CHALLENGE was “born” and it is today that I’m pleased to announce that the game will be played on SUNDAY APRIL 30TH 2006 at HARTSDOWN PARK in Margate. The game will effectively be an “All Star” game, as the teams will be selected from a pool of players, one “coached” by CHRIS KINNEAR the current Margate boss, and the other by CLIVE WALKER the current Dover Athletic manager. There are plans for many other “events” including a prize draw on the day as well as an on line auction that will end with the final whistle of the game. And there will be surprises too…

The task of contacting players to play in the game is already underway and we hope that by the end of February we will be able to name “preliminary squads”.

All proceeds from the game will go to the Sykes family, and Paul’s widow Carly will be guest of honour on the day. Indeed at the launch on Boxing Day at Hartsdown Park (for the Ryman Premier League game between Margate and Folkestone), their young son Thomas was the mascot – decked out in a Margate kit and Folkestone hat and scarf.

Already the Kent County Football Association have donated all the balls to be used on the day, and the Folkestone Invicta FC Supporters Club have offered to supply the draw tickets that will be sold in advance and on the day!

There will be a lot of people giving up their time free of charge to remember “just” a footballer who always wore his heart on his sleeve; a really nice guy, but most of all a young husband and father.