I watched the Sports Personality of the Year awards last night—or “SPOTY” as the event now appears to be known—and it certainly looked like a lavish occasion, as the great and the good from the world of sport gathered in Belfast to celebrate the achievements of the past twelve months.
And there have undoubtedly been plenty of notable performances and successes… but anyone hoping for an in-depth review of (or even a few half-decent clips from) the sporting year was going to be left disappointed as the two-and-a-bit hours (including an overrun caused almost single-handedly by Northern Ireland football manager Michael O’Neill) consisted mainly of profiles and interviews featuring the twelve contenders for the main award, and the presentation of the various other trophies.
For me, two of the biggest highlights were Bailey Matthews receiving the Helen Rollason award; the eight year-old has remarkable inner strength and I doubt we have heard the last of this inspiring youngster; and the appearance of Lizzie Jones, widow of the late Keighley Cougars half back Danny, who sang “Danny Boy” to the backdrop of pictures of those sportsmen and women who had passed away during 2015. To hear her sing so beautifully as an image of her husband appeared on the large screen behind her was so moving: she is an incredibly courageous young woman.
It was really good to see netball getting a mention, with England’s Tracey Neville being nominated for the Coach of the Year, and her squad in the long list for Team of the Year after their third-place finish at August’s World Cup. The England women’s footballers also finished third in their respective World Cup, and their efforts were rewarded by Lucy Bronze’s inclusion in the final twelve for the evening’s big prize.
It is no secret that the England women’s EuroHockey triumph is my absolute favourite sporting moment of the whole year. What the girls achieved in overturning a two goal final quarter deficit against the reigning World and Olympic champions Holland before dominating the penalty shoot-out was truly outstanding. The celebrations that followed Holland’s decisive miss were wonderful to watch, as goalkeeper Maddie Hinch was engulfed by her joyous team mates. It was a show of unrestrained joy from the girls, many of whom had shown so much character to win a bronze medal at London 2012 in the guise of Great Britain; and I for one can’t wait for Rio….
That said I must admit I struggled to recognise the members of the victorious squad who attended the event. They all looked fantastic, but every previous time I’ve seen them, they’ve had a stick in their hand and a number on their back… I’m pretty sure they had neither last night. I have been lucky enough to meet Alex Danson, so I spotted her straightaway. I’m 99.9% sure Sophie Bray was there… possibly Lily Owsley as well? I may need some help now….
It’s hard to criticise those charged with selecting a list of candidates (or eventual winners) because the process would seem to be a subjective minefield. I listened briefly to a radio phone-in after the show when callers were effectively saying that “so-and-so should have won because… er… I wanted them to”. Defining success or putting a scale of achievement into some sort of context is nigh on impossible; all I would say is that every single individual or team nominee absolutely deserved to be recognised… and the hockey girls were robbed!
Just for the record, I wonder if Leicester City came under serious consideration as a possible contender for Team of the Year, because you’d have been ridiculed for suggesting that what they have achieved in 2015 was even conceivable, let alone possible….
Moving on to the main award… my preferred winner and runner-up (Jessica Ennis-Hill and Kevin Sinfield) actually came third and second respectively. I was slightly disappointed for our World Heptathlon champion, but elated to see rugby league getting some totally deserved (and long overdue) recognition through the endeavours of the Leeds Rhinos and Great Britain captain. Sinfield is a modest man who has excelled in arguably the toughest team sport; and the fact that he and the eventual winner polled more than half of the total number of votes cast is a staggering statistic that must be a huge boost to everyone involved in rugby league.
The winner was by this point a foregone conclusion, and Andy Murray duly stepped up to receive his second Sports Personality of the Year award in three years. He wasn’t my choice, but no argument at all with the result; after all, three hundred-and-something thousand voters can’t be wrong, can they?!
Murray still seems to have his detractors, but notwithstanding his talent on the tennis court, I actually have a lot of time for the man himself; and I thought the speech he gave on receiving the trophy was just right for the occasion.
So there you have it. Congratulations to all the winners and a big well done to me for typing something in the region of 850 words and not mentioning Tyson Fury once….