Atherton passes Test for Sports Writer award

By Ian Cole
Michael Atherton completed the transition from Test cricketer to sportswriter supreme in eight years, when he won the country’s top honour for a sports writer at the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards tonight.

Atherton, cricket correspondent of The Times, was acclaimed as Sports Writer of the Year for 2009 following a poll of national newspaper sports editors conducted by the Sports Journalists’ Association, who have organised the awards since 1976.

Atherton’s award capped off an evening dominated by coverage, in reports and pictures, of last year’s Ashes cricket series. In the judges’ citation for Atherton, one sports editor said he was “peerless on his own sport, entertaining, throught-provoking and challenging on any other subject”. Another sports editor said “his elegant style, thoughful but incisive opinions were, in an Ashes-winning year, indispensable”.

Atherton was also named Sports Columnist of the Year by a panel of distinguished judges from all sections of the sports media, he was highly commended in the Specialist Correspondent category, and he took some credit for his commentary work as Sky Sports’ Test cricket coverage won the TV Sports Programme award.

Atherton played 115 Tests for England, 54 as captain, and scored 7,728 runs before retiring to the Press Box at the end of the 2001 Ashes series. He is the first former sportsman to win the award.

He was 5,000 miles away in Chittagong covering England’s cricket tour of Bangladesh when the awards, sponsored by UK Sport and Sky Bet, were announced at a gala dinner in London compered by Jim Rosenthal, with the SJA President, Sir Michael Parkinson, making many of the presentations.

Runner-up to Atherton as Sports Writer of the Year was Paul Hayward (Observer) with David Conn (The Guardian) third.

These most prestigious awards to journalists now encompass writers, broadcasters, photographers and cartoonists.

The Sports Photographer of the Year award resulted in a “photo-finish” with the judges finally giving the decision to Scott Heavey of Action Images ahead of Toby Melville of Reuters, the first time that an Action Images photographer has scooped first prize.

Sports picture of the year went to an image by PA Sport’s Gareth Copley, a former Sports Photographer of the Year, which captured a tense moment in the Ashes series for England batsman Jonathan Trott and which last month was named as the world’s best sports photo of 2009 in an international competition.

Melville won the Specialist Photographer award, with a judges’ citation that said: “The winner’s folio was truly exceptional and brought the standards of the category to an all-time high. He is an outstanding and unanimous choice.”

Click here to see some of the leading entries in the SJA British Sports Photography Awards.

Among the notable successes was a fifth successive victory for Sky Sports’ Jeff Stelling, the only winner of Broadcaster of the Year since its inception in 2005 and ” now that the award is split into TV and radio – the first winner of TV Broadcaster. BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew was first winner of Radio Broadcaster and his Test Match Special team was voted winners of Radio Programme.

For the second year, the Sky Bet-sponsored Sports Betting Writer award went to the Racing Post‘s Steve Palmer – though Sky Bet speculated correctly that he would win when they chalked him up as odds-on to retain the title. The judges said Palmer is “a joy to read. Informative, witty and honest”.

Sports Story of the Year went to the Daily Telegraph’s Paul Kelso for the cover-up surrounding rugby’s “Bloodgate” scandal (to read the original reports, click here and here), while another Daily Telegraph journalist, football writer Henry Winter, collected the Specialist Correspondent prize with a commendation from the judges which spoke of his “moving and compelling interviews, strong comment and excellent match reporting”.

On a good night for the Daily Telegraph, Oliver Brown was judged Young Sports Writer for a second time, while the paper’s sports desk won the Team award for its Ashes coverage.

One first on the night was an award going to satirical fortnightly magazine Private Eye, whose Premiersh*ts strip won Paul Wood the Cartoonist of the Year prize.

Of this year’s new categories the Daily Mail’s cricket writer Lawrence Booth won the online award for a Regular Blog or Column, while the BBC’s Tom Fordyce took the Live Blog section.


Live Blog: Tom Fordyce ( Highly commended: Rob Smyth (

Cartoonist: Paul Wood (Private Eye). Nick Newman (Sunday Times).

Radio Programme: Test Match Special (BBC). Runner-up: 5Live Sport (BBC).

Feature Writer: Owen Slot (The Times). Highly commended: Donald McRae (The Guardian).

Young Photographer: Andrew Matthews (Press Association). Highly Commended: Scott Heavey (Action Images), Paul Thomas (freelance)

TV Programme: Test match cricket (Sky Sports). Runner-up: Soccer Saturday (Sky Sports).

Regular Blog or Column: Lawrence Booth ( Highly commended: Edward Gorman (timesonline).

Regional Writer: Mike Aitken (freelance). Highly commended: Amanda Little (Cumbrian Newspapers)

News Picture: Eddie Keogh (freelance). Highly commended: Andrew Couldridge (Action Images), Mike Hewitt (Getty Images)

News Reporter: David Conn (The Guardian). Highly commended: Paul Kelso (Daily Telegraph).

Specialist Correspondent: Henry Winter (Daily Telegraph). Highly commended: Michael Atherton (The Times).

Specialist Photographer: Toby Melville (Reuters). Highly commended: Laurence Griffiths (Getty Images), Scott Heavey (Action Images) and Eddie Keogh (freelance)

Young Writer (the Ian Wooldridge Trophy): Oliver Brown (Daily Telegraph). Highly commended: Laura Williamson (Daily Mail).

Sports Story: Paul Kelso (Daily Telegraph – “Bloodgate”). Highly commended: David Conn (The Guardian – “Hillsborough cover up”).

Diarist: David Hills (Observer). Highly commended: Charles Sale (Daily Mail). g is

Betting Writer: Steve Palmer (Racing Post). Highly commended: Derek McGovern (Daily Mirror).

Portfolio: Scott Heavey (Action Images). Highly Commmended: Tom Jenkins (The Guardian and Observer) and Toby Melville (Reuters)

Columnist: Michael Atherton (The Times). Highly commended: Oliver Holt (Daily Mirror).

Internet writer: Kevin Eason (timesonline) and Duncan Mackay (insidethegames)

Interviewer: Donald McRae (The Guardian). Highly commended: Matt Lawton (Daily Mail).

Radio Broadcaster: Jonathan Agnew (BBC). Runner-up: John Inverdale (BBC).

TV Broadcaster: Jeff Stelling (Sky Sports). Runner-up: Clare Balding (BBC).

Picture of the Year: Gareth Copley (Press Association; picture above). Highly commended: Andrew Couldridge (Action Images) and Hugh Routledge (freelance)

Team of the Year: Daily Telegraph – The Ashes. Highly commended: Guardian and Observer – The Ashes.

Sports Photographer of the Year: Scott Heavey (Action Images)

Sports Writer of the Year: Michael Atherton (The Times).
Runner-up: Paul Hayward (Observer). Third: David Conn (The Guardian).

Doug Gardner Award for services to sports journalism and the SJA: Hugh McIlvanney

Further coverage of the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards will be appearing on during the coming week

SJA dates for your diaries

Wed Mar 17: SJA Sporting Lunch with triathlon world champion Alistair Brownlee. Two-course lunch plus a glass of wine of beer, £20 for SJA members, £25 for non-members. To book, contact Mary Fitzhenry or by phone on 020 8946 9601 or 07946 545084 (please indicate whether a vegetarian meal is required).

Mon Apr 12: A Question of Boris:The SJA’s second “Sporting Question Time”, this time with London Mayor Boris Johnson at City Hall. This will be strictly for SJA members only. To book your ticket, click here to send us an email with your name, SJA membership number and address, writing “Sporting Question Time with Boris” in the subject field

Mon Apr 12: SJA Spring Golf Day , to be staged at Surbiton GC. To book, contact Paul Trow (07973 862747).

Thu Apr 15: SJA 2010 Annual Meeting , at offices of UK Sport

Mon Apr 19: SJA/LOCOG guided tour of Olympic Park, 2pm For booking details, click here.

Sun Apr 25: SJA Cricket Day. Enjoy corporate hospitality with friends and colleagues, and bring along your partner, as Lancashire take on Surrey. Tickets £65 each. Click here for booking details.

Mon Sep 13: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC. To book, contact Paul Trow (07973 862747).

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