X Factor Final or BBC Sports Personality of the Year – what to watch? Dermot O’Leary and Gary Lineker, each nicely polished presenters in that housewife’s favourite’s kind of way; Smatterings of famous faces saying lots of nicely correct but instantly forgettable sound bites; having to watch endlessly bland performances to get to what we really want to know – the result. Finally the odd similarities between the protagonists – many of whom would probably have won in other years at a canter…but regardless due to public voting the winner may not be the most deserving but the most popular amongst the voting public.
Many X Factor winners are instantly forgotten once Simon Cowell’s Syco company have rode the public support with the instantly released and instantly forgettable cover versions for Christmas No 1 and the consequent album. Yes every now and again a Leona Lewis, One Direction and JLS come along but truth be told they are a touch boring – nice talented people, no doubt, but no amount of tattoos will ever make One Direction edgy enough to shake off what they are – Cowell’s boy band to cater for the millions of lovelorn teenage (and possibly older) girls. The point is that personality (or perhaps more pointedly an interesting personality) is not part of the criteria to win the X Factor, certainly not in comparison to marketability (ideally with a US slant), recording voice etc.
Much is the same of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year…I am not of the view, as many seem to question these days, that the winner has to be the most interesting or gregarious personality – Professional Sport produces fewer of these types on an annual basis. Where once the bad boys of rock and pop were in fact hurricanes of vice and anti-PR behaviour so has the X Factor bad boy winner of last year James Arthur (a raging example of real northern angst on audition) had to apologise for an admittedly stupid Twitter rant – how very Sex Pistols.
Where are the next James Hunts, the Gazzas, the Tufnells even the O Sullivans coming from? Truth be told they have little place in professional sport now…best not tell Ernests Gulbis though. The erstwhile Latvian world number 24 decided to call the Men’s top 4 (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray) boring and always wanting to seem polite – the four of them must have been devastated whilst polishing their combined 38 grand slam tournament titles. You guessed it – Gulbis has never won a grand slam tournament, he has only ever made one quarter final appearance, but at least his Wikipedia page describes him as “one of the funnier players.” Being funny and controversial it seems does not equate to winning. Gulbis funnily enough wants tennis to become more like boxing – once deemed a noble sport we now have to endure endless false and childish trash talk weigh-ins from a bunch of men who talk about legacy and respect…the weird world of boxing where outlandish behaviour has made them all oddly the same and similarly odd.
The reality these days is that in professional sport winning is what matters not the style you do it in, the natural talent you have or your charisma – although those attributes can still endear you to the masses. We still love Freddie Flintoff, destroyer of the great Australian team of 2005 so we will forgive him his booze fuelled exploits with a cursory “Freddie, what a lad!” And what of Gazza? Beloved by most but watching the poor shell of the man he has become might make us wish he was less of a character. I doubt that James Hunt would even be a F1 driver in this day and age.
For me the winners should be the ones who have achieved the most in that calendar year taken as much from a British sporting perspective rather than necessarily within the confines of their own sport. Hence why Bradley Wiggins, Britain’s first ever Tour De France winner was a worthy winner – his mod-styled side-boards and dress sense making him quirky enough to please the “personality” brigade. There are of course discrepancies – in 2009 Ryan Giggs won the award for little other reason than being a nice guy still playing for Manchester United at 36, mind you that was before the housewives found out he had been having an affair with his Brother’s wife – a line we would hope that even John Terry has not crossed. Poor old Jenson Button, a very nice chap by all accounts, was left in second place despite being crowned F1 Champion. Did Zara Philips really win for her eventing gold medal, or for the lovely symmetry of her royal mother’s own win – Darren Clarke was expected to win for his Ryder Cup performance just six weeks after the death of his wife; he actually said he did not want “a sympathy vote.”
But by and large the SPOTY has rewarded those of outstanding sporting achievement – in recent years Joe Calzaghe (unbeaten world champion boxer), Chris Hoy (later to be knighted treble gold winner), Tony McCoy (seemingly eternal Champion Jockey who has been nominated again this year after winning his 4000th race), Mark Cavendish (whose achievements on the Tour would then be overshadowed by Wiggins). It might be worth adding that when McCoy won, second place went to Phil “The Power” Taylor possibly the only other sports personality to have a record of dominance akin to McCoy’s.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not considering the scale of international achievement/disappointment of the home countries, Football has only provided 4 winners since Bobby Moore won in 1966 (Gascoigne, Owen, Beckham and Giggs). Perhaps more surprisingly is in that same timeframe Golf and Rugby Union have only had 1 winner each (Faldo and Wilkinson) and Cricket and Tennis, 3 each – a score strangely equalled by Figure Skating and Cycling (with 3 winners in the last 5 years). The two princesses account for the two eventing wins, while boxing has 5 wins including the two wins of an all-time legend and good man, Sir Henry Cooper. Well out in front is the nice catch all of Athletic disciplines with 13 winners, 5 of whom are women (a sixth won in 1964) and those winners have been ably supported by Sally Gunnell and Jess Ennis who between them hold 3 second places and three third places).
SPOTY was castigated two years back for not having one female candidate in the shortlist of 10 – despite the panel including women and many of the national papers also unable to pick a suitable candidate, which led to many leading sportswomen tweeting their displeasure. It puts me in mind of what my Colour Sergeant once said to a female officer cadet at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst when she asked why he did not like the female cadets. In the manner only a 6 foot 4, 16 year soldier from the Grenadier Guards could, he replied “There are no such things as boys and girls in the British Army, Maam, just soldiers.” It was a refreshing thought and the message should not be confused with the argument of women being on the front line.
And so with the SPOTY there should be no distinction between sportsmen and sportswomen…their achievements should be measured against level, standard, dominance, competition, precedence etc.
I managed to pick 8 of the 10 the two who I erred on were Hannah Cockroft and Christine Ohuruogu. In their place I had Laura Trott and Gareth Bale. My reasoning was simple – Trott has had a fantastic year and has assumed the mantle of Victoria Pendleton while Hannah Cockroft has almost become a victim of her own dominance as she is so far ahead of her competition it makes her winning as much of a sure thing as there is in sport. Christine Ohuruogo (my 11th pick) had a fantastic run to win gold at the World Championships but for me Mo Farah’s results this year have overshadowed the rest of British Athletics.
That aside we come to the curious case of Gareth Bale whose exploits on the football pitch almost singlehandedly put Spurs into the Champions League. Bale won the Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the year and the Young Player of the Year awards – the only other man to have achieved this in one season was a certain Cristiano Ronaldo whose £80m transfer fee would then be eclipsed by Bale’s frankly ridiculous £86m transfer to Ronaldo’s Real Madrid. Bale scored on his debut and after a couple of injuries has won over the demanding Madrista with some excellent performances in Ronaldo’s absence – including the “perfect” hat-trick over the weekend. So in terms of outstanding achievement, performance, consistency and precedence Bale was the standout British player in Britain’s stand out sport.
In years gone by Ian Bell, without whom England would not have won the Ashes, would have been a worthy winner (see Botham/Flintoff/Steele); Chris Froome likewise but he is unlikely to win after Cavendish and Wiggins; Leigh Halfpenny was easily the Lions’ standout player (and Wales’s) but even the great Barry John only managed third in 1971 after running rings around the All Blacks for the Lions to such an extent the New Zealand press hailed him “The King;” Justin Rose, became the first English US Open winner in 43 years but previous major winners (Harrington, McIlroy, McDowell, Lawrie and Clarke) have not won; perhaps if McCoy had not won in 2010 he would be nailed on now for the landmark 4000th winner and a 19th Champion Jockey title despite serious injury.
That to me leaves three standout achievers – and one obvious winner. Sir Ben Ainslie a year after a fourth Olympic Gold and knighthood became the first British Americas Cup winner having masterminded an extraordinary comeback worthy of Hollywood. Mo Farah who became only the second man to win the men’s distance “double double (Golds in 5000m and 10000m),” now arguably Britain’s greatest track athlete.
And then comes one Andy Murray – who many will accuse (wrongly) of not having a personality, so how can he win SPOTY?
Mens. Singles. Wimbledon. Champion.
Regardless of what happens now in his career Murray will always be remembered for that one moment, which 5 years ago I thought I would not see in my lifetime. More memorable person than any X Factor winner; a more memorable moment than any X Factor Christmas Number 1; possibly even the standout British sporting win of my life. Sure he is not the most gregarious or tabloid friendly but he is a Winner.
Do I need to say more?
BBC Sports Personality: a rambling blog about a rambling event – Sam Tripuraneni