The SJA’s photographer STEVE ROWE was on hand at yesterday’s The National Lottery-sponsored British Sports Awards at the Grand Connaught Rooms to capture the moments when Jo Pavey, Rory McIlroy and the England women’s rugby team were announced as our major winners of 2014. Alongside a man in a chicken suit… Words by STEVEN DOWNES
Imagine trying to do a table plan for a wedding with nearly 400 guests. Aunt Mabel won’t sit with cousin Derek, but young Tommy’s best friend asks that they can sit with their teacher, so they don’t feel left out. Andy specifies “no pineapple”. And no one wants to sit with Charlie.
Welcome to the world of Start2Finish event management in the fortnight before the SJA’s 65th annual British Sports Awards, and the often conflicting requests that come in from the various invited guests and members which have to be so deftly and diplomatically considered by Petta Naylor and James Green. Not to mention the 11th hour cancellations.
And then a bloke stepped on to stage wearing a giant chicken outfit.
At risk of sounding a touch Pythonesque, no one expected the Neil Baldwin effect at the 2014 Sports Awards. About three months ago, when the committee met and asked David Walker to whom he wanted to present his Chairman’s Award this year, there were a number of credible sporting candidates discussed. Around a week later, Walker made the case for something “a bit different”, and asked if any of us had seen Marvellous.
The die was cast. The day before Thursday’s awards, I got a call from the chairman, sounding a touch conspiratorial. “Is there somewhere private where Neil can go before his presentation?” Walker asked.
He clearly didn’t want to let on the reason, so I asked anyway. “Neil wants to get changed before the presentation. He’s still got the chicken suit that he wore for his first game at Stoke as the kit man.”
New readers begin here.
Earlier this year, the BBC showed a televised biographical play about the life of Neil Baldwin, who was described by the Daily Mail as “deeply religious, was once diagnosed with learning difficulties as a boy, is a qualified clown and wears very thick glasses”. Baldwin also became the Stoke City kit man under Lou Macari, and was part of a backroom team that saw the former Celtic and Manchester United player drag the club from its lowest position in the league.
The Mail has also called Baldwin “a national hero”, a status that owes much to the brilliant writing of Peter Bowker, whose Marvellous was described by SJA chairman Walker as one of the finest pieces of sporting drama to reach our screens since Kes. If you haven’t seen it, or want a chance to see it again, Marvellous is being screened again on Christmas Day.
And thus, on the day that the SJA celebrated 20 years of our sponsors, The National Lottery, providing multi-billions to British sport, the likes of Rory McIlroy, Sir Chris Hoy, Dame Kelly Holmes, world champion rowing crews and World Cup-winning rugby teams shared the limelight with Baldwin in his chicken suit. Honourable mentions to Ken Loach and the late Tony Benn were also firsts for our 65-year-old organisation.
The awards had gone “off piste” slightly earlier in the presentations, too.
Many colleagues were delighted to see fellow SJA member, and Leeds’s fourth best radio DJ, Martin Kelner, take to the stage and returned to good health after last year’s cancer scare. He was there with no less than Sir Chris Hoy on behalf of Welcome to Yorkshire to accept the award for services off the field of play for the magnificent staging of the Grand Depart of the Tour de France. “When you’re having a big idea,” Simon Green, the head of sponsor BT Sport, said in announcing the winners, “think big.”
Such has been the impact of The National Lottery on British sport over the past two decades that there were current world champions and record-breakers, Commonwealth Games and Winter Olympic and Paralympic medallists seated on nearly all of the 30-odd tables around the grand dining room. The table planning sessions in the pre-Lottery funding years must have been much more difficult. These champion sportspeople, more than 100 of them, mingled with several retired former world-beaters, plus many senior figures from journalism and broadcasting, top administrators and a past, present and possibly future Minister for Sport, with Richard Caborn, Helen Grant MP and Clive Efford MP.
Sir Chris Hoy was our Sportsman of the Year in 2008, long before he clocked up Olympic gold medal No6.
Yesterday, he had his career achievements – including having a stadium named after him – recognised in the presentation of Sir Michael Parkinson’s President’s Award. Sir Chris spoke of his delight at being able to attend the awards, and the thrill of being able to meet Parky, when the demands of looking after his new-born son are his pre-occupation rather more than gruelling training camps.
And there were emotional moments, too, for Jo Pavey when she was named Sportswoman of the Year.
“I don’t believe it,” said her mother, Linda, who had travelled up from Devon with her daughter, “She’s won! She’s won!” And there was a sense of a tear being held back, too, by Jo Pavey herself as she watched and re-lived the final lap in Zurich when she won her European 10,000 metres title.
The National Lottery’s Spirit of Sport Award to Dame Kelly Holmes, as much for her post-track career with the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, also tugged at the heart strings.
Rory McIlroy, who was flying back from a tournament in the United States, had sent a video acceptance of his Sportsman of the Year award, the first golfer to win the SJA title since Nick Faldo nearly a quarter of a century ago, while a clutch of England rugby players – the women – expressed their delight in whoops as they took to the stage to collect the team of the year prize.
The full list of winners was published on this site yesterday, and can be seen here.
For the record, for the three awards voted for by the SJA membership, the top six in each category was as follows:
SJA SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR
1, Rory McIlroy (Golf)
2, Lewis Hamilton (Motor racing)
3, Greg Rutherford (Athletics)
4, Carl Froch (Boxing)
5, Adam Peaty (Swimming)
6, Mo Farah (Athletics)
SJA SPORTSWOMAN OF THE YEAR
1, Jo Pavey (Athletics)
2,Lizzy Yarnold (Skeleton bob)
3, Claudia Frangapane (Gymnastics)
4, Fran Halsall (Swimming)
5, Charlotte Dujardin (Equestrianism)
6. Jo Rowsell (Cycling)
SJA TEAM OF THE YEAR
1, England women rugby
2, European Ryder Cup golf
3, Great Britain men’s rowing eight
4, Great Britain women’s 4x100m sprint relay
5, Great Britain triathlon relay
6, Great Britain cycling women’s team pursuit
- Further reports from the SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, including pictures and video, will be published on sportsjournalists.co.uk in the coming days
- The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Mar 23: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport, at the Grand Connaught Rooms. Entry forms now available here
Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club