After being sent to the Tower, I left seeing stars

Anton RipponTHE VIEW FROM TABLE 26: Awards ticket bought, guest tickets purchased, train fare paid and taxi driver tipped… Was it all worth it?

Derby-based SJA member ANTON RIPPON, pictured left, seemed to enjoy his day out in The Smoke – at least once he arrived the SJA British Sports Awards

The day started badly. The train from Derby was already going to get us to the Tower of London by the skin of our teeth. We could have caught an earlier one, but that would have meant paying a peak fare. Bring back British Railways, I say. The BR sausage rolls might have been a week old but at least you could just turn up, ask for a day return to the Smoke and still have change from a pound note.

Anyway, there we were, heading with some glee towards the SJA’s British Sports Awards for 2013, when our train slowed to a halt, sat and sulked in the middle of a Northamptonshire field, and finally pulled into St Pancras late enough for us to wonder whether we’d arrive at the Tower of London in time for pudding.

So that was the first mistake – skimping on the train fare. The second misjudgement was believing that a taxi would now be quicker than the Tube. It wasn’t, of course – Londoners know this – and it also cost £25 plus having to listen to lectures on Romanian immigrants, the criminals who run the power companies (had to agree there) and how ’Arry and Sandra had once ridden in this very cab.

The cabbie himself had never heard of The Pavilion at the Tower of London, but, he assured us, he could find his way to the Tower itself. Which was a bit of a relief. Eventually, he dropped us on the wrong side of a busy road, wished us a Merry Christmas, and didn’t seem amused when I asked him if he could find his way back to St Pancras alright.

The SJA's glittering Sports Awards was great for star-spotting, according to Anton Rippon: Here Sir Ian McGeechan and the event's presenter, Jom Rosenthal, right, are caught in conversation with the Telegraph's Mick Cleary
The SJA’s glittering Sports Awards was great for star-spotting, according to Anton Rippon: Here Sir Ian McGeechan and the event’s presenter, Jim Rosenthal, right, are caught in conversation with the Telegraph’s Mick Cleary

I’m telling you all this simply to underline how much difficulty country bumpkin members of the SJA have to go to in order to attend a function in London.

Anyway, there we were, coats stowed, when Randall Northam came over. Randall chairs the SJA sub-committee that organises this event but my only need of his organisational skills at this moment was directions to the gents’ lavatory which, by happy accident, was situated adjacent to the bar where a platoon of servers (you’re not supposed to differentiate between waiters and waitresses anymore, are you?) stood to attention, presenting arms with trays of what I supposed might have at one time been chilled fizzy wine.

Of course, the fact that we came to it after it had lost much of its fizz and all of its chill was our fault for skimping on the train fare …

And so to the view from Table 26.

What a friendly crowd our little group turned out to be. Especially Bill Meredith, veteran sportswriter whose work decorated the Daily Telegraph for so many years up to his retirement in 1993, by which time he was assistant sports editor. That’s one of the great things about these occasions: you get to put faces to names. Actually, when Bill discovered that I’d worked for the Derby Evening Telegraph, he wanted to exchange Brian Clough stories. Alas, I could contribute very few. Bill had probably seen the Rams more times than I had in those days that I spent largely at a district office, well away from the excitement at the Baseball Ground.

The one thing we did have in common, we soon discovered, was a mutual dislike of the music played over the television pictures of various SJA winners in action. But that was probably just an age thing. I suppose it would have seemed bizarre to have watched Christine Ohuruogu’s 400 metres triumph to the accompaniment of Les Brown and his Band of Renown.

But we did agree that Jim Rosenthal compered the whole event seamlessly. I recalled that Jim once took Heston Blumenthal to court over a meal that he claimed left him “disastrously” sick. There was no chance of that on Thursday. The food was good, the service excellent, at least in our neck of the woods. I didn’t canvas opinion further afield.

We also felt that Sybil Ruscoe’s table interviews were excellent, teasing out just the right kind of responses. She does look a lot taller on the wireless, though.

Clive Efford, Labour's shadow spokesman on sport, and Millwall fan, is interviewed at the SJA British Sports Awards by Sybil Ruscoe, who is much taller on the wireless
Clive Efford, Labour’s shadow spokesman on sport, and Millwall fan, is interviewed at the SJA British Sports Awards by Sybil Ruscoe, who is much taller on the wireless

These events always bring out the star-spotter in me, and there were a fair few to be spotted. However, one difficulty in doing this my lack of a guest lists. There appeared to be only one per table and ours had been snapped up and pocketed by a fellow guest.

Then I spotted Start2Finish’s Martin Castle on an adjacent table, and although he won’t mind me saying that he doesn’t exactly fall into the category of star, it was a good spot because he was carrying a spare copy, from which I was able to locate real stars and, more important, see who was there that I knew and could go over and bother.

Those free scratch cards were a nice touch from our sponsors, The National Lottery. I elected to check mine later in private, not wishing to share a possible £5,000 with a bunch of strangers, however agreeable they were. As it turned out, I didn’t win a bean.

And, talking of winning, it is always a disappointment when a recipient of such awards doesn’t turn up to collect their trophy, but this year everyone was present except for Andy Murray and he had a decent enough excuse, what with being in Florida and all.

I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. Well done to Randall and his sub-committee, and to Start2Finish.

Was there a blot anywhere on the day? Well, just one. A snapper looked me up and down, raised his camera, had another think, and then decided I was a nobody, turned on his heels and walked off without a word. Mind you, that happens a lot.

Otherwise, it was well worth the journey from Oop North. And, yes, we did catch the Tube back to St Pancras.

  • Between now and the end of 2013, anyone wishing to join the SJA may apply, with their initial fee covering their membership through until the end of 2014 – effectively 13 months’ membership for the price of 12. Click here for more details


Tue Dec 17: SJA Masterclass with Twitter’s Lewis Wiltshire. Click here to book your place


Mon Mar 24: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, Grand Connaught Rooms, London
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