‘The judges judged’: acclaiming a night of acclaim

TOM CLARKE, the chairman of the SJA’s sports writing judges, enjoyed Monday evening’s fruition of a year’s efforts, but sees room for improvement

The messages are on Facebook, Twitter, the SJA website and my inbox, they’re from winners and losers and judges, and they’re all saying much the same thing: the SJA awards night not only saluted the best of our breed but it was also a winner in its own right.

The Grand Hall at the Connaught Rooms were a fitting setting for the SJA's Sports Journalism Awards
The Great Hall at the Connaught Rooms were a fitting setting for the SJA’s Sports Journalism Awards on Monday

The Great Hall at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London had been dressed splendidly. Every one of the 300-or-so people there had a direct involvement, as a short-listed candidate or as a colleague or as a judge (and all with a clear or big-screen view of the presentations); the food and wine were good and plentiful; John Inverdale was a masterly compere; Sybil Ruscoe toured the tables and got some quotable quotes from the guests; and – most important – the winners of the awards were generously celebrated as the stars of our trade.

Among the winners and the highly commendeds, there were writers and photographers who had appeared on the podium in previous years and there were others new to this acclaim from their peers.

However, I have to confess a personal favourite moment – the announcement of Jeff Powell of the Daily Mail as the winner of the Doug Gardner Award for his outstanding contribution to sports journalism. Jeff joined the Mail in 1966. Here he is, 48 years on, his talent and enthusiasm undimmed, still creating lively and knowledgeable columns in print and on the Mail’s website. It says much for quality of Jeff’s contacts file that Sir Clive Woodward, Frank McLintock and Terry Venables were by his side as he received the award.

My other heroes of the evening were Martin Castle, James Green and their team at Start2Finish, our event managers. My job was to select the judges. Their job was more difficult, collating the entries (189 of them, some with five pieces in each entry), nudging newspapers and others about the looming deadlines, distributing the entries to the judges, collecting and summarising the judges’ scores, marketing and issuing tickets for the event, and then staging it so stylishly and successfully.

On a table at the back of the room, Martin Castle from S2F, right, was keeping an eye on procedings
On a table at the back of the room, Martin Castle from S2F, right, was keeping an eye on proceedings

I pay an extra tribute to Martin, whose wife Pippa has been in hospital for a month following an emergency operation. He has been visiting her daily and continuing to work on our showpiece. Well done, Martin, and our best wishes to Pippa.

I mustn’t get carried away and suggest that the entries reflected absolutely everything that’s good in sports journalism and that the judging process itself could not be tweaked.

The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, the Telegraph titles, The Times and The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Observer were all well represented in terms of talent and numbers (and shares of the honours).

But where were the entries from the Mirror titles (barely a handful), The Sun (one – and that, I think, was a personal submission) and the Express titles (not one)? I’d like to know because there are excellent reporters and feature writers on those papers whose work merits our recognition.

While we’re on that subject, where were the entries from the major regional dailies throughout Britain?

Tony Adams: he revelled in "judging the judges"
Tony Adams: he revelled in “judging the judges”

As for the judging, it’s inevitable and proper that the panel of judges is heavily weighted towards people who have been there and done it in sports journalism; there’s little point in having less experienced journalists as judges.

However, I brought on to the panel people who had been the subjects of sports journalism – the likes of Tony Adams, Simon Halliday, Barry Hearn, Ross Hutchins, Mark Johnston, Victoria Pendleton and Beth Tweddle. How did they rate our work? Given the chance, I’d like to add more (and younger) sports people to the panel.

By the end of the evening, the resounding message is that, despite all the cuts in staffs and budgets, sports journalism continues to be exciting and entertaining and – dare I say it? – the most enlightened part of modern newspapers.


Thu Apr 3: Media lunch with boxer George Groves, The Driver, Kings Cross. Booking details here here
Thu Apr 10: SJA annual meeting, Old Cock Tavern, Fleet Street
Mon Apr 14: SJA Spring Golf Day: Croham Hurst GC, Surrey. Booking details to be announced