Old school ties bind at our piss-up in The Brewery

The morning after the lunch before, NORMAN GILLER admits to being a bit of a song and dance man at yesterday’s 61st annual SJA British Sports Awards

The smoothly and superbly organised SJA British Sports Awards at The Brewery yesterday provided me with a personal highlight that brought one of our winners, Phillips Idowu, virtually to his knees.

The world champion triple jumper ” to say the least, one of our most colourful and coolest competitors ” will confirm that our first meeting at the awards show was unique.

I introduced myself by saying: “Phillips I am about to do something that will either make you want to run away from a nutter or hug me like a long-lost brother.”

I then proceeded to sing to him the first couple of lines of our school song:

“Since upon the throne of England first was hailed the name of George, Raine’s with unabated ardour set to work a chain to forge …”

It was at this point that Phillips buckled with laughter before giving me a brotherly hug.

Yes, we both went to the same East End school ” Raine’s Grammar when I was there in the 1950s, but now a comprehensive that gave us both a great foundation for life.

Phillips is one of the school’s most famous pupils since jazz pioneer Ronnie Scott was there in the 1940s in the days when he was known as Ronnie Schatt. Can’t understand why he changed his name.

Excuse this peculiar way of getting into my SJA awards show observations, but I just wanted to give a trumpet fanfare for Raine’s and the great job they did for Phillips in launching his career. “Without the teachers showing interest and encouraging me,” he told me, “I would never have continued with athletics. Schoolteachers do not get enough credit for the support they give kids. It would be nice if you could mention it.”

For me, the SJA British Sports Awards provided a joyous journey into the past. I was reunited with Terry O’Connor (pictured with me at the pre-lunch reception), whose copy I used to run at the London Evening News 54 years ago. In those days he played for Saracens in between writing authoritatively on rugby and athletics. Looking a ridiculously young 84 and the oldest man in the room (he was Chairman of the then SWA in the year that the present Secretary was born), he told me: “I’m glad you followed my advice and got out and learned the trade in local papers. Goodness knows where today’s young reporters are going to get their experience.”

I bumped into good man for all seasons Trevor Bond, with whom I used to work on the local paper circuit, and with him, David Richmond, who taught me a lot about subbing when I sat alongside him on the Daily Herald sports desk.

Former Olympic 400 metres ace Adrian Metcalfe, a colleague from ITV days, revealed how he had broken a foot during a recent fitness run in a Paris park, and Sun Editor turned PR guru Stuart Higgins chuntered on about dining with Cliff Richard the previous evening. Out of the shadows at last, Stu.

That gifted all-round writer James Mossop assaulted my ears with more stories about his first love, Barrow Football Club, Randall Northam advised me to invest my £10 free SkyBet (given to everybody attending) on England at least reaching the World Cup semi-finals in South Africa next year, and John Goodbody reminded me of our early shared experiences at the ringside when boxing was regularly staged in the cockpit that was Shoreditch Town Hall.

The beauty of the SJA awards extravaganza is that, apart from rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s finest sports exponents, you get to meet fellow journalists in a relaxed environment without the pressure of chasing headlines and deadlines. It should be a must-attend date in the calendar of every sports journalist.

I was lucky to sit alongside Liz Kahn, a trendsetter long ago as a golf reporter on what was exclusively a male-dominated media circuit. She held me spellbound with stories of the giants of golf, and told me of an early interview with Tiger Woods when she drew the private conclusion that he would eventually “be found out as not being the saint he was being painted …”

The likes of Liz, Julie Welch and Sue Mott deserve special awards for kicking the door down for women sportswriters. I remember when Julie first came on the scene as a not-warmly-welcomed football reporter, and proceeded to write the likes of me under the table.

On my right was omniscient sports journalist Philip Barker, who reminded me that when he was 11, he wrote to me on the Express and that he was thrilled that I took the trouble to reply. All reporters note: reply to those kids who write to you because one day you could find yourself sitting next to them at an awards show.

Most touching for me was “the Bill Bateson Memorial Table”, featuring not only News of the World stalwarts but also Bill’s widow Glen and Sarah Wooldridge, the widow of another Fleet Street giant, Ian Wooldridge. And on my table was Gill Sheldon, whose genius of a golf photographer husband Phil Sheldon was taken from us five years ago. The memories of these hugely talented men beat on in SJA hearts.

Let me close this personal look at the awards ceremony with a word of tribute for presenter Jim Rosenthal and interviewer John Inverdale. We tend to take them for granted because they make their presentation work seem so ridiculously easy, but those of us who have worked in television will tell you that the hardest thing is to come across as natural while feeding facts.

I was dreading John coming near me with his microphone because I think he might have been tempted to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. In my days as a TV sports critic I once described him as having the biggest mouth on television. I don’t take that back, John, but it is always good sense and wisdom that emanates from it.

Like Phillips Idowu and me, you are obviously well schooled.

Pictured right: I was bowled over by some cricket maidens, as much to my delight, I got to meet the all-conquering England women’s team, including (left to right) captain Charlotte Edwards, Lydia Greenway and Beth Morgan

Read previous Norman Giller columns by clicking here.

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