A British soldier presented the FA Cup to winners Manchester City after Saturday's final, having being selected as the FA's guest of honour for his inspirational leadership and selfless bravery in Afghanistan.
Corporal Mark Ward, from 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment, was chosen by the MOD to be the FA’s guest of honour. His actions in Afghanistan as a section commander have earned him a Military Cross.
A Manchester City fan himself, Corporal Ward presented the cup to the winning side’s skipper, Carlos Tevez. Corporal Ward said:
The atmosphere was absolutely electric. There were 88,000 fans there and when they all cheered it was fantastic.
Corporal Ward, aged 27, admitted that when his second-in-command called him into the office to ask if he fancied presenting the FA Cup at the final between Manchester City and Stoke City, it came as a bolt from the blue:
At first, I didn’t believe him and thought he was winding me up. I was over the moon.
Corporal Ward sat down for a three-course meal with the Football Association Chairman and Prime Minister David Cameron before the match, and joined the teams on the pitch ahead of kick-off to wish them good luck. He even joined the players in the tunnel and said:
“They were all brilliant, but Joe Hart is a bubbly character and came over for a good chat.”
FA Chairman David Bernstein was delighted to invite Corporal Ward as guest of honour. He said:
Reading Corporal Ward’s citation for the Military Cross is humbling. His bravery and commitment to his platoon while in Afghanistan was outstanding and I’m delighted he is able to join us representing all our troops around the world.
Corporal Ward chose the manager of his battalion’s football team, Colour Sergeant Jason Jones, to be his guest.
Other Service personnel handpicked to carry out the FA Cup and medals after the match were Petty Officer Andy Gibbs, Royal Marine Scott Woods, Private Michael Swindells from 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment, and Corporal Sarah Thomas and Senior Aircraftman Craig Richardson from the RAF.
Talking after the match, Corporal Ward said:
I’m extremely proud to have done this on behalf of all our troops. Football is a massive part of army life. I’ve always been a big fan and also play in my battalion’s football team.
When we are away on tour, if there is ever a chance to watch a game we do, and I’m sure lots of troops watched the final. It’s a welcome diversion from the day job.
Getting awarded the Military Cross was an extremely proud moment in my life but I have to say this is up there. It was the best feeling in the world. I was so proud and honoured to be there.
Corporal Ward has supported Manchester City since he was knee-high and wore his first team strip as a toddler. Now he has the match ball to treasure as well as a programme signed by England boss, Fabio Capello, and Trevor Brooking and Stuart Pearce.
Next month Corporal Ward will collect his Military Cross at Buckingham Palace.