The greatest year for British sport. The busiest year for the SJA. And the best ever British Sports Awards? KEITH ELLIOTT certainly thought so, as he reports from Table 37 in the Pavilion at the Tower of London
Great execution, we all agreed. Not the stuff that the Tower of London is notorious for. Nobody to my knowledge left the Sports Journalists’ Association 2012 British Sports Awards a head short of a full body – though there were a few, as afternoon blurred into evening, who were well on the way to becoming legless…
And it was a memorable occasion at the Tower’s Pavilion, even if the entertainment was Martin Kelner and Jim Rosenthal rather than a man swinging a large axe.
Of course, it was helped by being the climax to an extraordinary sporting year. That said, the turnout for a lunchtime on a freezing Thursday in the capital was a celeb spotter’s dream.
Even the waitresses were all a-flutter. “I really want to serve Jonnie Peacock his chicken,” one confided cryptically to me. Peacock, winner of the Spirit of Sport Award for his 100 metres Paralympics dash and his endearing personality, broke a few serving wenches’ hearts because he had been taken ill on the morning and couldn’t attend, the message from his agent the bane of our organisers’ day.
But it was a minor disappointment when SJA members and guests found themselves sitting next to the likes of Jessica Ennis, Michael Vaughan, David Hemery, Martin Offiah, Katherine Grainger and Lynn Davies, to name but a few.
Spotting the sports stars wasn’t hard.
If you were fortunate enough to be seated alongside someone young, glam and wearing a designer dress or suit, chances were that your neighbour was not a sports journalist. Or Laura Williamson.
Most of us SJA members try hard, goodness knows. But as my wife cruelly announced, trying to smarten up a sports journo is like pouring perfume on a pig.
Most awards ceremonies are pretty dull – unless you win something, that is. But this was a bit different from the weepy affairs where everyone down to the producer’s dog gets on the “without whom” thank you list.
Journalists ought to ask questions, shouldn’t they? And not just the sort of mindless “How do you feel, Arsene?” stuff we hear all too often.
So our roving reporter Martin Kelner (“I gather Stuart Hall was not available”) and later Jim Rosenthal quizzed guests, some Games Makers, and all the winners, from Jessica Ennis to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Kelner alighted upon SJA stalwart Morley Myers, who was at the awards celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife Joy. How did his wife cope with Morley’s many years away from home, on the road for the various agencies he had worked for, Kelner asked. “She called those the good times,” said Morley, deadpan.
Ennis, who scooped Sportswoman of the Year for the third time in four years and the Pat Besford Award, presented by our sponsors The National Lottery for the outstanding performance of the year, is pretty slick at dealing with interviewers now. But Jim squeezed a confession from the lady in red: she plans to skip training on Christmas Day. You wanna know what it takes to be an Olympic champion? There’s your answer.
We also relived her high jump and hurdles performances. Glancing round the room, it was amazing how many hard-nosed hacks found a bit of grit in their eyes at that snatch of film…
A piece of film showing London being nominated as the Olympic venue, precursor to Seb Coe (sorry, Lord Coe) picking up the JL Manning Award for outstanding contribution to sport, drew a rather more boisterous reaction. Or was that because we recall the French reaction when they came second? Wonder how many of those 2012 Olympics: Paris T-shirts they sold?
Coe also raised a laugh when he said: “As a Chelsea fan, this is the closest I will get to silverware this year…”
The occasion will also be remembered for a rare sight: a tennis player smiling.
Jonny Marray, an unexpected winner of the Wimbledon men’s doubles with the Dane Frederik Nielsen after sneaking in through a wildcard, collected the SJA Chairman’s Award from Barry Newcombe, who’s covered our premier tournament for 47 years. He deserves an award for that, surely.
But Marray proved himself the antithesis of the typically dour tennis player, charming the sold-out 600 attendees with his humility and his obvious pleasure at winning, even if he did get a bit confused.
“It’s so kind of you to invite me here tonight,” he said. Must be all that travelling that screws up your circadian rhythms.
Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, winner of the best international newcomer, was another who proved remarkably erudite (at least, for a footballer, and especially for a teenager – you had to remind yourself that he is still just 19).
While four-gold-winner Sarah Storey, in a sparkly dress that turned appropriately gold under the stage lights, won the women’s Paralympic award and audience’s hearts when she described how she felt in the velodrome. “You felt you family had grown by 6,000 people.”
George O’Grady, from the European PGA, was on hand to collect the Team of the Year award, mainly because the British players who had helped to win the Ryder Cup were, as ever, playing in tournaments in some far-flung quarter.
Though by bringing Sam Ryder’s golden trophy to our event, he gave several of our guests the chance to do something which the Americans have not been able to do for years: get their hands on the Ryder Cup.
Well, follow that, as they say. Will we ever see another year of sport – indeed, another SJA occasion – like it?
Of course we will. We’ll be taking bookings for March 2013 very soon.
How you voted
The Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year prizes were all voted for by the members of the SJA.
The final results in each category were as follows, and demonstrate the utter quality of the contenders in 2012:
- Bradley Wiggins
- Mo Farah
- Andy Murray
- David Weir
- Rory McIlroy
- Ben Ainslie
- Jessica Ennis
- Katherine Grainger
- Laura Trott
- Victoria Pendleton
- Nicola Adams
- Ellie Simmonds
TEAM OF THE YEAR
- European Ryder Cup
- Grainger and Watkins women’s double sculls
- Chelsea FC
- GB men’s cycling sprint
- GB Olympic showjumping
- GB women’s cycling pursuit