Monday, 14 December 2009


Last night was a truly unforgettable evening. I was a guest at the 56th BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2009 by the red carpet and inside the Sheffield Arena. It was a fabulous evening for everyone who lives in Sheffield by confirming its status as a great sporting city and I found it a proud moment seeing local athlete - and former University of Sheffield student - Jessica Ennis scoop third place.

The Department of Journalism Studies had managed to secure a few dozen tickets for students to stand near the red carpet and for a restricted view seat, on a first-come, first-served basis. I managed to get one of these but didn’t think the evening would be anywhere near as exciting as it turned out to be. Within 15 minutes of arriving and being escorted into a ‘pen’ - it was effectively a ‘hire-a-crowd’ operation from the BBC - boxers Amir Khan and David Haye had walked past and said hello to us, signing autographs. I thought that was pretty impressive, but then along come Fabio Capello and Jenson Button! I shook Capello’s hand and wished him well for the World Cup next year. Maybe he’ll send a scout to watch me in five-a-side football soon. Maybe not.

Then last year’s runner-up Rebecca Adlington [pictured] walked past. She looked fabulous. Frankie Boyle made a comment about her appearance on Mock The Week recently as “someone who's looking at themselves in the back of a spoon”, which was judged by the BBC Trust board to be unfair and offensive. A good judgement. Where on earth does Boyle get these ideas from? I actually think she’s one of the most attractive sportswomen around and she looked great last night. The best way for her to answer her critics is to ignore them and get on with her life. It’s not as if she should be judged on how she looks anyway - a great swimmer is a great swimmer, after all, and we should be proud of our best sports personalities for who they are.

The event itself was a wonderfully glitzy affair. I have seen Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, Kasabian and Snow Patrol at the Arena during my time in Sheffield and was impressed on each occasion at the fantastic production, video and lighting. But last night took it a step further as the set was simply awesome and used to great effect in the entrances of boxing champion David Haye. They also placed a gymnastics floor in the middle of the Arena for Beth Tweddle to show off her skills. The transitions were seamless on screen and live in the venue, and it was fascinating to watch how the producers and cameramen were moving around next to the stage organising each scene.

It was good to see golfer Seve Ballesteros given the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the former Ryder Cup team members on stage were holding back the tears as the trophy was handed over via a videolink abroad. But perhaps the most moving moment of the evening was a montage of sporting heroes who have died over the last year, concluding with former Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson [pictured]. The applause for him lasted for a good deal of time after the montage and it was a fitting tribute.

Well done to Fabio Capello [pictured] on picking up the coach of the year trophy. I don’t think many people fully realise how much the transformation in England’s fortunes over the last year is down to him. His disciplinarian stance has ensured players respect the manager and know their place in the team is not assured, which has led to a much better feeling in the side. Capello is an exceptionally talented tactician and England will certainly not be dying with a whimper like they did under Steve McClaren. Well deserved, Mr Capello, and thanks for shaking my hand on the red carpet!

Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs won this year’s overall award, which was something of a surprise as second-placed F1 driver Jenson Button probably achieved more over the last year in relative sporting terms, but the Welsh midfielder is a footballing legend and deserved the recognition at least. A public vote decides the main winner at SPOTY, as it’s affectionately known, so being the only footballer gave him a good chance, because it is the nation’s favourite sport. The Independent reported today that betting odds on Giggs were slashed during the week, and although I hoped that Button would take the gong, it was a good chance to reflect on the career of a player with the best trophies count in English football.

What a great evening. Please can I get a free ticket for next year too?