The Sports Journalists’ Association has embarked on a new era, with the unanimous election at yesterday’s annual general meeting of Patrick Collins as the Association’s new President, something he described as, “The greatest honour in my entire career.”
The AGM, staged in a private room in a Fleet Street pub not far from where the organisation was formed as the Sports Writers’ Association 67 years before, also saw two new Honorary Members created.
Collins was the much-admired chief sportswriter of the Mail on Sunday, who retired earlier this year, having accumulated five Sports Writer of the Year titles during his near-half-century career.
He succeeds Sir Michael Parkinson, who stands down after a decade at the head of the organisation.
Collins is the fourth SJA President, a fact he referred to in his acceptance speech.
“When asked to accept the position, I checked on the previous holders of the office. This was a great mistake.
“There have been three SJA Presidents so far. I’ve known them all, and they’ve all been good friends. There was John Bromley, who practically invented ITV Sport. There was Chris Brasher, who won an Olympic gold medal and founded the London Marathon. And there’s Sir Michael, who presided over the greatest chat show we’ll ever see.
“Which means I’m very much the Ringo Starr of this four-strong little band,” Collins said, prompting warm applause – in appreciation of the joke, rather than agreement.
He paid tribute to the efforts of his predecessor. “Michael left an impossible act to follow, but I promise to give it my best endeavour. This is the greatest honour in my entire career.”
The business of the annual meeting saw an annual report delivered by the Chairman, David Walker (you can read it in full here) and financial statements from the Treasurer, Sarah Juggins, which reflected increasing income from membership subscriptions, and vital support from sponsors The National Lottery, BT Sport, Ladbrokes and Laureus.
This was an important change from the situation just three years ago, when the Association’s sole sponsor opted not to renew their partnership. “We need to work hard to maintain our relationships with our existing sponsors, as well as seek new sponsors,” Juggins said, as she also called for the Association to seek a bigger and broader membership base, recruiting from sports magazines, websites and broadcasters.
Juggins also gave a massive vote of thanks to Bill Colwill, who in the past year had handed over the responsibilities for managing the Association’s membership after nearly 20 years.
The officers and committee for 2015-2016 see Andy Elliott, the former head of sport at PA, elected as deputy chairman, succeeding Janine Self. Steven Downes was elected as Secretary for a 10th time.
Since becoming SJA Chairman, Walker has taken on the job of sports editor at the Daily Mirror. He confirmed to the meeting that, after two years, it is his intention to stand down as Chairman in April 2016. During the coming year, he will preside over a committee comprising Lizzy Ammon, Philip Barker, Mary Fitzhenry, Tom Knight, Randall Northam, Steve Rose, Janine Self and Howard Wheatcroft.
One of the last acts of the previous committee was to agree unanimously to award Honorary Membership to two loyal stalwarts of the Association: Norman Giller, who celebrated his 75th birthday last weekend after a lifetime as a member of the SWA/SJA and nearly a decade of contributing columns to the SJA website, sportsjournalists.co.uk; and to Mary Fitzhenry, who has served on the Association’s committees since the early 1990s, including a spell as Secretary, and over the past eight years has organised the SJA’s sports lunches, receptions and helped with the awards dinners.
The award was a closely guarded secret, which meant that Fitzhenry was delighted and surprised, in equal amounts by the presentation, which was the first duty of Collins as President.
“That’ll teach you to miss a committee meeting,” someone in the body of the meeting advised.
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UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Tue May 26: Young sports journalists social event
Tue July 14: Young sports journalists social event
Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club