Our true sporting giants take stage with humility

Can you see anyone missing from this picture? Photograph by Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Can you see anyone missing from this picture? Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

THE VIEW FROM TABLE 14: KEITH ELLIOTT had an empty seat next to him at yesterday’s British Sports Awards. But it wasn’t left vacant by anyone who might have been missed

Well, does Jessica Ennis-Hill, crowned Sportswoman of the Year for the fourth time at the SJA’s British Sports Awards, look “quite fit” in a dress? ‘Fraid I can’t tell you.

The empty seat next to me at the glam awards in London’s Grand Connaught Rooms should have been filled with the considerable bulk of a man who could definitely have supplied the answer.

He could even have been on stage directly after the world and Olympic heptathlon champion (tastefully wearing a red sheath cocktail dress with decorative black lace neckline. Maker? Dunno. She’d tucked the label inside) at the awards climax. Instead, Greg Rutherford walked away with our Sportsman of the Year award.

My absent friend (I use the term advisedly) was not stuck on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic, nor worrying over which tie would look best when he appears on the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year this weekend (a lesser event voted for by the sports-wise British public, some of whom may think David Beckham’s still playing for Manchester United).

He was (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you rate on the social sensibility graph) er, uninvited. His threats against an SJA member had resulted in a ruling that his presence “would be incompatible with the nature of our event”, so they took away his ticket. Shame, that. He could have polished off all the bread rolls and other food, from pate to sticky toffee pudding, that the diet-conscious sports stars pushed to the side of their plates. Gotta consider the environment and unnecessary waste these days.

Dina Asher-Smith and her mum, Julie, right, celebrate with SJA President Patrick Collins
Dina Asher-Smith and her mum, Julie, right, celebrate with SJA President Patrick Collins

It would also have been interesting to see how the man who wasn’t there would have interacted with his next-door neighbour, the dazzlingly talented Dina Asher-Smith, who collected the Pat Besford Award for outstanding performance of the year. The fastest British teenager in history, who clocked 10.99sec for the 100 metres at the London Anniversary Games, came with her mother (come on, Dina’s only just turned 20). “Have you seen the names on this trophy?” she asked her daughter in awe. “Jessica Ennis, Steve Redgrave, Lester Piggott, Bradley Wiggins…”

Julie Asher-Smith is an avid Manchester United fan and a human resources director. The two don’t often go together. “When Dina was asked what her parents did, she used to tell people: ‘My mum sacks people’.”

The man who wasn’t there may have been the elephant in the room, but he wouldn’t have been anything like the most stellar, though he may have been the biggest, beating Ali Williams (6ft 71in v 6ft 9in) by a short head. Williams (who is now Dan Carter’s minder) was there with another New Zealand rugby legend, Sean Fitzpatrick, to receive the President’s Award.

Normally this goes to an individual and a Brit, but the All Blacks squad deserved it, president Patrick Collins said, “for playing a game as near perfect as it can be played”. It came as a bit of a surprise Down Under, it seems. The New Zealand Herald quoted Williams as saying: “Sean Fitzpatrick and I were there to receive it, which is extremely humbling considering British press can get quite brutal at times.” Funny: I don’t remember anything but stunned admiration from every sports writer who watched them rule the Rugby World Cup.

Would he who must not be named have been as humble?

"So tell me, Kevin, who should be the new England rugby union captain?" Kevin Sinfield side-stepped Sybil Ruscoe's question as adeptly as any tackle on the pitch
“So tell me, Kevin, who should be the new England rugby union captain?” Kevin Sinfield side-stepped Sybil Ruscoe’s question as adeptly as any tackle on the pitch

Maybe the presence of so many great names, from Max Whitlock, Alex Danson, Katherine Grainger, Alex Stewart to Greg Rutherford, might just have had a humbling effect. Each one, collecting their award, was gracious, eloquent and self-effacing. A lesson, indeed, for would-be sports personalities everywhere.

They dealt elegantly with some tough questions thrown by roving reporter Sybil Ruscoe and compere Jim Rosenthal. The tone was set when Sybil asked Kevin Sinfield of the all-conquering Leeds Rhinos: “So who should be the next England rugby captain?” Phew! Start me with an easy one, won’t you? He admitted that he did not write his column in the Yorkshire Post (shock, horror!) though Brian McDermott, who coached the Rhinos, was quick to point out that he penned his Daily Mirror column himself, much to the relief of the sports editor of said paper, and SJA chairman, David Walker, sitting nearby.

Jessica Ennis-Hill takes award our Sportswoman of the Year trophy for a fourth time
Jessica Ennis-Hill takes our Sportswoman of the Year trophy for a fourth time

In fact, the only one tongue-tied by the whole affair was the greatest communicator in the room, outgoing SJA President Sir Michael Parkinson. Parky was rendered almost inarticulate by his own standards when he was called on stage to receive the Doug Gardner Award for services to sports journalism. No Oscar-like “this is a huge surprise…” speech, but words from the heart.

Would it have been so wrong to have wotsisname in the room? Not at all. Dominating the stage was the massive Davis Cup. The near-4ft cup weighs a heavyweight 16 stone. Tyson could have made himself useful and helped to carry it out. That, at least, would have won him a few admirers. And a hernia too, I daresay.

For the SJA’s press release, the final results of our members’ polling and all the award-winners from the event, please click here

For more pictures from the event, click here

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