SJA lunches: real stories without the PR spin
In 2007, the SJA’s chairman, Barry Newcombe, decreed that we should have a homecoming – we were to return to Fleet Street.
Nearing the Association’s 60th anniversary in 2008, the SJA took a step back in time to the old heartland of the newspaper industry for its “power lunches”, and has proceeded to deliver journalistic scoops and coups, as well as very enjoyable networking occasions.
Our guests over the years have included the man reckoned by Sports Illustrated to be one of the most powerful in international sport, Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, as well as top coaches and managers of national teams – such as Sir Dave Brailsford, the man in charge of Britain’s cycling revolution, rugby chiefs Rob Andrew and Rob Howley, England cricket’s Alec Stewart, Scottish football’s Terry Butcher, British swimming martinet Bill Sweetenham, and then British Olympic Association chairman Lord Moynihan – through to great champions such as Olympic sailor Sir Ben Ainslie, double gold medal-winner Rebecca Adlington, Three-day Eventer Mary King, and the all-time great of world darts, Phil Taylor.
The aim is always to provide our members with access to leading sports figures in a relaxed, working atmosphere, with no pre-ordained agenda – just good, hard copy on the menu.
It was at an SJA lunch that Brailsford announced his plan for a British Tour de France team, a scheme which ultimately led to Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome winning the great race. Moynihan grabbed the back pages when he announced that he wanted Sir Alex Ferguson to manage the GB Olympic football team. Sweetenham tipped us off that Adlington would win Olympic gold, 18 months ahead of the Beijing Games. Taylor told us how he wished he looked more like David Beckham. Goodell spoke about longer term plans to consider an NFL franchise for London. And as well as talking about Wales and British Lions rugby, Howley also gave us £1,000-worth of big match tickets for one of our lucky lunch attendees.
Our lunch venue varies. Boozers on or near Fleet Street, such as the Old Bank of England, the Cheshire Cheese and the Doggett’s Coat and Badge, have all been booked, while we have also ventured elsewhere on occasion, up the BT Tower and to Arsenal’s Emirates home.
But the aim remains the same.
At his lunch ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, Lord Moynihan kept a packed room of more than 30 SJA members and guests in his thrall for more than an hour, and then for a good period in the bar afterwards.
Jeff Powell, the Mail’s veteran columnist, was clearly thrilled with the backpage-lead his lunch generated. Powell wrote:
“The vital importance of football to the London Olympics was spelled out by Colin Moynihan when he said: ‘The impact of a British team on the public and their support of the Games will be enormous.
” ‘We would also expect that team to be a strong medal contender and thereby generate tremendous excitement throughout the country. We must have a team in these Games and we will have a team.'”
For a modest lunch fee – which covers the cost of a two-course meal and a drink – the SJA’s lunches regularly deliver great copy and an excellent opportunity to network.
Keep checking the SJA’s website here – http://www.sportsjournalists.co.uk/?cat=4 – for announcements of other headline-grabbing guests.
Pictures by Steve Rowe