VOTING HAS CLOSED to decide the winners of three major categories at the Awards, to be held at The Kia Oval in London on 7 December; read in-depth profiles of contenders including Stuart Broad, Josh Kerr, Mary Earps, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Josh Kerr, Europe’s Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup teams, and the England Roses…
The SJA Sportsman, Sportswoman and Sports Team of 2023 are set to be announced.
Two days after the staging of the last SJA British Sports Awards, Gareth Southgate’s England faced France in the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals.
What might have been, had Harry Kane hit the target with that late penalty…
There would be more World Cup heartbreak for English national teams to endure in 2023 – in women’s football, netball and T20 cricket; and men’s rugby and hockey, the latter coming via that all-too-familiar sting of a penalty shootout defeat to Germany.
Yet even though those sides all came up short, there was much to admire in their respective quests for glory – and across the last 12 months, there were more moments that had Brits punching the air in celebration than you might think.
That’s before we talk about the many stand-out players within those sides, and there was no shortage of athletes who excelled as individuals in world championships and major competitions elsewhere.
Yes, SJA members may have to deliberate a little harder than in previous years to select their Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year – but surely that’s no bad thing. VOTING HAS NOW CLOSED.
Read in-depth ‘The Case For…’ profiles of some of the leading awards contenders, provided by SJA Academy members…
- England’s Lionesses
- England Netball’s Roses
- England Rugby’s Red Roses
- European Ryder Cup team
- European Solheim Cup team
- Manchester City men
Selected highlights from the British sporting year…
2023 began with a high-class World Darts Championship final in which Michael Smith hit a memorable nine-darter on his way to securing his first Alexandra Palace title.
Over in Great Yarmouth, two unseeded Brits – Scotland’s Jason Banks and England’s Jamie Walker – reached the open singles final of the World Indoor Bowls Championship, with Walker emerging victorious. Katherine Rednall won her fifth women’s title to make it an English double.
Then in February, England’s Women’s T20 Cricket World Cup challenge was ended by hosts South Africa in a nail-biting semi-final. Jon Lewis’s team were entertaining to watch, and both Sophie Ecclestone and Nat Sciver-Brunt were named in the Team of the Tournament.
In Sharjah, 14-year-old Sky Brown became Britain’s first skateboarding world champion, and there was another triumph for a British teenager when Cheshire-born Mia Brookes, 16, became the youngest-ever snowboarding world champion, in slopestyle. A few days later in Bakuriani, Georgia, Huw Nightingale and Charlotte Bankes became Britain’s first-ever world champions in mixed team snowboard cross.
Birmingham’s Leon Edwards retained his UFC welterweight title at London’s O2 Arena in March – he is due to defend the belt again in December.
Across the capital at Twickenham in late April, nearly 60,000 fans saw the England women’s rugby team beat France to record a fourth Grand Slam in a row in the Women’s Six Nations. Marlie Packer and Abigail Dow were the competition’s two top points scorers.
Bruce Moaut skippered ‘Team Mouat’ to victory in Ottawa in April as Scotland saw off the challenge of hosts Canada in the final to land the World Men’s Curling Championship for the first time since 2009.
In what was thought to be Frankie Dettori‘s farewell season, he won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket for the fourth time, on Chaldean, taking his all-time Classics tally to 23 victories. Dettori will turn 53 in December and has decided he’s not done with racing yet – a move to California comes next.
Twenty-four years after Manchester United did the Treble of league, FA Cup and Champions League, Manchester City joined them in that elite bracket of football history. Powered to the silverware by Pep Guardiola’s genius, Erling Haaland’s goals and Kevin De Bruyne’s class, admiration abounded for Phil Foden’s flair and Jack Grealish’s joie de vivre too.
Meanwhile, in Prague, David Moyes’ West Ham beat Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League to claim their first trophy since 1980.
Ryan Moore won the Derby at Epsom for the third time, on Auguste Rodin, while in New York in June, Zharnel Hughes broke Linford Christie’s 30-year-old British 100m record – and within a month, he would shatter John Regis’s British 200m record as well at the Diamond League meet in London.
There was glory for England’s Under-21 men’s football team in Georgia in early July as a last-gasp penalty save by goalkeeper James Trafford in the final against Spain delivered a first European U21 Championship title for 39 years.
It wasn’t exactly a case of ‘England expects’ when Sarina Wiegman and the Lionesses headed Down Under that same month. Injuries to Leah Williamson and last year’s SJA Sportswoman of the Year, Beth Mead, meant there was a more cautious optimism around the reigning European champions’ prospects at the Women’s World Cup.
Narrow wins over Haiti and Denmark were followed up with a six-goal thrashing of China, but the Super Falcons of Nigeria so nearly sent England flying home after their last-16 tie went to penalties. That close shave fired up Wiegman’s players as they knocked out Colombia and then hosts Australia.
Alas, in the final, the spark went missing again as Spain took the trophy. However, it was a summer when the Lionesses went up yet another level, not least the reputation of goalkeeper Mary Earps whose Golden Glove award aptly reflected her brilliance. Fans were eventually able to buy her shirt; even with the price-tag at £100, there was huge demand. Alex Greenwood, Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp also had impressive tournaments.
Back on home soil, going into the third Ashes Test at Headingley, England’s men’s cricket team were already 2-0 down to Australia in the series after back-to-back narrow defeats. It had even turned fractious in the Long Room at Lord’s and hopes of reclaiming the urn had all but evaporated. Was there any pizzazz left in Bazball?
Time for heroes. Mark Wood took a first-innings five-for in Leeds and captain Ben Stokes hit 80 as England proceeded to win by three wickets.
Onto Old Trafford, where Stuart Broad claimed his 600th Test wicket and Chris Woakes had his first Ashes five-for. Zak Crawley (189) and Jonny Bairstow (99no) gave England a huge lead and by the end of day three, the Aussies were well and truly on the ropes.
But rain, more rain and yet more rain followed in Manchester, fizzling out the match and ensuring the tourists couldn’t lose the series – and although kinder weather up north would have meant higher stakes for the finale at The Oval, that was an absolute humdinger too. Broad, with his last-ever Test cricket delivery, sealed a dramatic 49-run victory and a 2-2 series draw.
Meanwhile, the women’s Ashes also ended in a draw, with hosts England fighting back from defeat in the only Test match to win four of the six limited-overs matches against the Aussies. Nat Sciver-Brunt was England’s player of the series.
In July, British boxing celebrated Savannah Marshall becoming the undisputed super-middleweight champion of the world as she beat Franchon Crews-Dezurn in Manchester. Two months earlier, in Dublin, Chantelle Cameron had inflicted the first professional defeat of Katie Taylor’s career by majority decision, retaining her undisputed super-lightweight world title; Taylor would however exact her revenge on Cameron in late November.
In tennis, Alfie Hewett won the Australian Open and US Open wheelchair singles titles, plus three of the four Grand Slam doubles tournaments with Gordon Reid. At Wimbledon, Britain’s Neal Skupski won the men’s doubles alongside Wesley Koolhof. Later in the year, Joe Salisbury and his playing partner Rajeev Ram would claim a third consecutive US Open men’s doubles title.
Since the Netball World Cup introduced a knockout phase in 1991, England’s Roses had failed to reach the final. After three consecutive third-place finishes, 2023 was the year they went that one step further, and having beaten Australia earlier in the Cape Town tournament, Roses fans were dreaming of glory against the Diamonds. It wasn’t to be, but Helen Housby’s star continues to rise; she was named Player of the Tournament.
The European Games multi-sport event in Poland produced 12 gold medals for Great Britain – taekwondo titles for Caden Cunningham (men’s +87kg) and Jade Jones (women’s -57kg) among them – while at the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka in late July, Matt Richards became Wales’ first individual world swimming champion, pipping Tom Dean in the men’s 200m freestyle. Richards and Dean were joined by Duncan Scott and James Guy as the GB men’s 200m freestyle relay team claimed victory as well.
There were also two golds for GB at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest in August. Katarina Johnson-Thompson described being back on top in the heptathlon as “the best day of my life” after a remarkable return from injury problems, while Josh Kerr made it back-to-back wins for Edinburgh Athletics Club in the men’s 1500m at the Worlds as he became the successor to Jake Wightman, who was the SJA Sportsman of the Year in 2022.
That same month, Great Britain dominated the Cycling World Championships in Glasgow by winning a whopping 100 medals, 47 of them gold.
On the track, William Tidball (scratch) and Ethan Vernon (elimination) took titles, as did Emma Finucane (sprint), and the Madison pair of Elinor Barker and Neah Evans. Barker, Katie Archibald, Josie Knight and Anna Morris won gold for GB in the women’s team pursuit.
Joe Choong retained his individual World Modern Pentathlon Championships crown in Bath in late August; at the World Para Swimming Championships in Manchester, Ellie Challis won six medals – three of them gold – and Poppy Maskill claimed five; and at the Canoe Slalom World Championships held at Lee Valley, there were individual titles for Joseph Clarke (two in kayak), Mallory Franklin (canoe) and Kimberley Woods (kayak cross), with Franklin and Woods claiming C1 team gold for GB as well.
Britain’s rowers reeled in six golds at the World Championships in Belgrade in September – they were second only to the Netherlands in the medal table – while over in Spain, Europe’s women retained golf’s Solheim Cup; the tournament will be played in 2024 as well as it returns to even-numbered years on the calendar. That will allow for annual alternating with the Ryder Cup, which was held the following week in Rome.
On seven previous occasions, a European Ryder Cup-winning team has taken the SJA Team award – but that hasn’t happened since the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ in 2012. The victory under Luke Donald was dramatic in a different way, with reports of unrest in the US camp and a must-watch car-park confrontation. Rory McIlroy was the main man both on and off the course, his four points the most recorded by any player.
The SJA’s breakthrough award winners in 2022 were gymnasts Jake Jarman and Jessica Gadirova. Sadly, the latter had to withdraw from the World Championships in Antwerp as a precautionary measure, and on the final day of competition, Team GB were still without a medal – until Jarman leapt into the history books, becoming the first Brit to win the vault world title.
For England at the men’s Rugby World Cup, the medals were bronze in colour. Flanker Ben Earl was the best in show for Steve Borthwick’s side, who defied expectations to come within a whisker of beating the All Blacks in the semi-finals, and then only just squeezed past Argentina in the third-place playoff. Wales’ challenge was ended by the Pumas in the last eight, while Scotland failed to get out of a tough group.
Let’s not talk about England’s defence of their men’s Cricket World Cup title – that won’t trouble the nominations much.
But the year is ending on some optimism for British football fans. In mid October, Scotland qualified for Euro 2024, followed a day later by England. Wales will attempt to join them by making it through the playoffs in March. Having three home nations at the Euros in Germany next year would certainly be a tonic.
For now, however, let’s celebrate the class of 2023. Maybe your picks come from one or more of the above, or you’ve got other options in mind. Either way, tell us who you’ve chosen.
VOTING HAS NOW CLOSED