Cole’s yeoman efforts recognised with award

On a night full of surprises, no one was more shocked when their name was announced as an award winner at the SJA’s British Sports Journalism Awards at The Brewery on Monday than former chairman Ian Cole.

Cole was named as the recipient of the Doug Gardner Award, a prize that recognises outstanding service to sports journalism and the SJA, and which is determined by the Association’s officers. He is pictured receiving his award from SJA chairman Barry Newcombe.

Cole is the epitome of the unsung hero of every sports desk in the land. Until his retirement as night sports news editor at the Daily Mail last year, Cole was the sort of “poor bloody infantry” who would make sure that the back pages came out, day after day, that the headlines fit and that even the starriest of star writers’ copy sang. And when occasion demanded, “Coley” would turn his hand to penning the required back-page news splash, too.

Cole has fulfilled a similar yeoman role with the SJA, where he has served on the committee since 1986, including two spells as chairman, in 1991-93 and 1998-99.

In part, Cole’s surprise on the night was magnified because as press officer, he had written the Association’s official press release, apparently with all the prize winners’ names, only a couple of days before. What he had not realised was that the SJA officers had omitted to give him the name of the Doug Gardner Awards winner. The award was shrouded in such secrecy that no mention of it was included in the evening’s script as furnished to presenter Jim Rosenthal over the weekend, and chairman Barry Newcombe had to write the commendation less than an hour before presentations began.

“Our Doug Gardner Award, for services to sports journalism and the SJA, goes to a man who retired last year after a 42-year career that started at the Ilford Recorder and which included spells on the Evening News, the Daily Express as well as the Mail,” Newcombe told the audience at The Brewery, “although these days he is spending more time in the hot seats of the stands at West Ham and Essex CCC.”

Doug Gardner, after whom the award is named, was another stalwart servant of the Sports Writers’ Association, serving as its secretary for 12 years until he died in office.

Attending the awards evening for the first time on Monday was Trevor Gardner, Doug’s nephew, who had asked the SJA to support the fund-raising for the Liam Ross Foundation. The foundation is a charitable cause in aid of children with heart disease, named after his own 13-year-old nephew who collapsed and died after playing a game of football at the end of the year. A collection for the cause raised £2,400.

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