WE asked you to tell us who you believed was this year’s Yorkshire Sports Hero of the Year and you have delivered a clear winner – Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom.
Up against another 11 stellar candidates and in another astonishing Olympic year for Yorkshire, Heckingbottom collected a remarkable 61 per cent of the vote. His nearest challenger was Olympic triathlete Alistair Brownlee, from Leeds, who polled 14 per cent. Diver Jack Laugher – who also claimed gold in Rio – came in third with 11 per cent.
Heckingbottom, 39, was thrown in at the deep end at Oakwell when Lee Johnson opted to return ‘home’ to take charge of Bristol City in February this year.
After a poor first half of the season saw the Reds slip to bottom of the table at one point, Johnson began to oversee a turnaround in fortunes before his unexpected departure.
Coming in was no easy task for Heckingbottom but he managed the transition with ease, leading his team to the Johnstone’s Paints Football League Trophy with a 3-2 win over Oxford United at Wembley in April.
Even better was to follow at the same venue the following month, when Barnsley defeated Millwall 3-1 in the League One play-off final, ending a two-year absence in the second tier for the club.
When asked to explain why Heckingbottom deserves his accolade as our Sports Hero of the Year award, YP football writer, Leon Wobschall, wrote: “There are many, many things that have impressed about Paul Heckingbottom’s exemplary start to managerial life at Oakwell.
“But perhaps the most revealing happened in the immediate aftermath to Barnsley’s captivating dual Wembley successes in the spring. For a Barnsley lad, it would have been easy, justifiable indeed, to milk the moments for all that they were worth.
“But after the JPT success over Oxford, Heckingbottom’s emphatic message plainly was ‘we ain’t done yet’. The job is only half done.
“Then, after play-off glory over Millwall – another win which displayed style and elan and everything good about the game at the home of football – he spoke with similar clarity and purpose about the club now stepping up and making themselves a Championship force.
“Words have been backed with deeds, something Heckingbottom proved good at in an outstanding 2016.
“Streetwise, solid, driven, decent, hardworking, talented and a leader of men, Heckingbottom’s managerial star is firmly on the ascent. Not many first-time managers can count two Wembley triumphs on their CV’s in a lifetime, let alone in the space of a few months.
“But you sense Heckingbottom has only just begun his journey. Barnsley are in good hands.”