The SJA Ladbrokes Lunches are a rich source of headlines and storylines, for regional sportswriters as well as the nationals, says ANTON RIPPON
If I’m honest, it’s a bit of trip from Derby to Ye Olde Cock Tavern in Fleet Street. First you have to catch a train to St Pancras, and that takes just over an hour and a half on a good day – funny how 90 minutes always sounds much shorter than an hour and a half – and then there’s the Circle Line to Temple, and a few minutes’ walk. And then, of course, when it’s all over, you’ve got to do the whole thing in reverse.
But when “it” is a Ladbrokes-sponsored SJA lunch, the journey is worthwhile because it means that you get access to the sort of national sporting figure who might otherwise elude a regional journalist with a weekly sports column to fill.
That’s not to mention a decent enough lunch in a cosy pub, and extremely convivial company. Oh, and there’s a fine selection of ales, too. So if you’re letting the train take the strain …
Back to the business in hand: I dipped my toe in the water recently for the Simon Halliday lunch. The former Bath and England centre isn’t the first sporting figure I would normally think of for a piece. But that is simply because although my dear old Derby is many things, rugby hotbed isn’t one of them – even if Prince Obolensky once went to school 10 minutes’ drive from where I now live, and played his early rugby in the county.
None the less, on the eve of England’s Six Nations match in Paris I was able to weave some Halliday quotes into my usual football-centric column in the Derby Telegraph, and I like to think that it looked the better for it. At least readers think I’m now getting out more.
One of the problems of working well outside London is that access is severely limited to the sort of people lined up by the SJA. So the answer is to hop on train now and again.
As this website will tell you, past lunches have included top coaches and managers of national teams – people like cycling’s Dave Brailsford, Olympic chief Lord Moynihan, rugby bosses Rob Andrew and Rob Howley, and swimming’s Bill Sweetenham – as well as Olympians swimmer Rebecca Adlington and sailor Ben Ainslie, Three-day eventer Mary King, from football there’s been Terry Butcher and former Arsenal and England defender Martin Keown, and 14-times world darts champion Phil Taylor. Soon, cricket’s Alec Stewart will be the guest, and I’m already planning my trip for that.
So the opportunities for some good copy to spice up a regional column are both manifold and various, as my old pal David Stacey, then chief reporter at the Derby Telegraph’s Burton office, often used to say in those glorious days of the 1960s when newspaper life was less antiseptic and failure to join in long pub lunches was seen as a poor career move.
Thank goodness that the SJA has gone some way to resurrecting them, only this time with the bonus of some good quotes to show for it.
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UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Apr 16: SJA Spring Golf Day, Surbiton GC. Click here for booking details.
Thu Apr 19: SJA Annual General Meeting, Fleet Street, 12.30pm. Click here for details.
Thu May 10: SJA Ladbrokes Lunch with former England cricket captain Alec Stewart. Booking details to be announced.
Mon Sep 24: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC. Booking details from Paul Trow at email@example.com