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William honours football helpers
The palace is to host its first ever official football match as part of The Football Association's 150th anniversary celebrations
The Duke of Cambridge has paid tribute to football's unsung heroes by honouring 150 grassroots volunteers ahead of an historic match in Buckingham Palace's garden.
William, president of the Football Association, presented the hardworking helpers with medals recognising their efforts during a palace reception, part of the FA's 150th anniversary celebrations.
Later this afternoon Civil Service FC and Polytechnic FC, both based in Chiswick, west London, will play a Southern Amateur League fixture in the gardens of the famous landmark - the first time a competitive match has been held at the Palace.
The Duke told the guests who included former England striker Michael Owen and FA chairman Greg Dyke: "At its best, football is a powerful force for good in society. It binds people from different backgrounds, communities, faiths and abilities - and gives them a common interest, a unifying identity.
"I believe over its 150 years, football has remained a wonderful example of the power of community and of our ability to come together to organise and to enjoy a simple pastime."
The Duke has helped organise the match and the Queen gave her permission for it to be staged at her official London home. Wembley groundsman Tony Stones and his team worked with the royal household gardeners to create the pitch in the 39-acre garden.
William joked that if a window was smashed the footballer would have to face his grandmother.
He said: "This magnificent home, Buckingham Palace, is at the heart of the nation, and so there cannot be a more fitting setting to celebrate our national game, and to celebrate all of you.
"I cannot tell you how excited I am that later today we will be playing football on my grandmother's lawn. One warning, though: if anyone breaks a window, you can answer to her."
William also praised the 150 volunteers who ranged from 17-year-old Taome Caville, who transformed her life after becoming involved in youth coaching, to Harry Hardy, who at 86 is the oldest active referee in football with more than 55 years of experience at a grassroots level.
Winners were nominated through a number of schemes, including FA Referee, Football Futures, Groundsman of the Year, Asian Football and Muslim Women awards.
The Duke told the recipients: "Reading through your citations, I don't think any of you realise quite how impressive what you do is.
"You change lives, you give people meaning, enjoyment, perspective, a release, an outlet; you bring people together and inject fun, laughter, passion, goals and challenges into others' lives.
"It is people like you who make our country what it is. I sincerely hope that you are immensely proud of your efforts and achievements."
Mr Dyke spoke during the reception, highlighting the essential work of football's volunteers.
He said: "It may be the first coach who taught you, or a friend's dad who arranged the fixtures and marked the pitch, the league secretary or a mum who'd ferry you and your mates to matches and would be persuaded to wash all the kits as well or - as in my day - the guys who carried out the posts and nets and put them up.
"The game survives and thrives on the contribution of 400,000 volunteers, who week in and week out give of their time, in every county, club and league in the land .
"They are the lifeblood of the game and I am so pleased we are able to celebrate their immeasurable contribution here today in this, our 150th year."
Before having a private lunch with some of the guests, William posed for a picture with the award-winners in the palace's ballroom where the reception was staged.