Chappers and Coisty among the winners at the sports journalism awards
It probably passed you by on Monday evening as it’s an industry awards do, but the Sports Journalist Association (SJA) dishes out awards every year to sports writers, broadcasters and photographers.
There are over 30 categories available to enter across broadcast, photographic and written sports media and an industry panel weighs up who gets the gongs. We all absorb a lot of sports media, so these awards may be of interest to the wider public in that they reflect what the industry regards as the best performers of 2022.
Presenter of the Year: Mark Chapman
The judges said he was ‘a titan of sports broadcasting with a commanding presence on not just one medium but two and the best presenter for asking the questions the audience wants to hear’.
That is hard to argue against. Working on both TV and radio and being excellent at both when each requires a different skillset, is no small feat, though I suspect we all take the easy-going way in which he does both jobs totally for granted.
He is the king of the ‘tight but loose’ presenting style which makes you feel it is all very informal and yet is a discipline in and of itself. Just being yourself in front of a camera or a microphone sounds simple, but it really isn’t. And as a presenter you’ve got to embrace the fact that you’re not the star, your job is to facilitate others. Some do this by being a frictionless, rather vanilla presence, but ‘Chappers’ doesn’t do it that way, being very much his own man, without being overbearing or ego-fuelled in a way that some in the industry are.
Can you imagine doing over five hours of live broadcasting on the radio, speaking to dozens of people, bringing guests in and out, being chatty but not verbose, avoiding uttering a swear word that could end your career, always being aware of what is off-limits, trying to steer guests to say something interesting, but managing to shut up those who aren’t, and making it all entertaining listening?
That’s what he does on a Saturday on 5Live and that’s why the show won Best Audio Show of 2022. In Kelly Cates and Steve Crossman, 5Live has two more excellent presenters. As I say, we tend to take this quality for granted, but we really shouldn’t. It’s a difficult art made to look easy.
Commentator of the Year: John Murray
It is an odd thought that if you don’t listen to football on the radio, you won’t know John’s work at all, whereas radio addicts like me have listened to him for the thick end of 25 years. In that entire time, not once have I ever felt he was less than enthusiastic and engaged in the commentary. And that is extraordinary really because some days you must feel below par, bored or just be in a bad mood. This must happen to John, but you can never tell.
He’s always impeccably researched and always gives the listener a sense of place and time. But more than that he allows himself to get caught up in the unfolding drama, excitement and surprise suffused through his commentary. I’ll tell you how good he is. Try listening to him while watching the game in real-time on the TV. He is so fast and pin sharp that when a goal is scored, he is as on top of it as it is possible to be when you are essentially describing something that has just happened. That’s just brilliant. Add in that soft Northumbrian burr and you’ve got a good time all the time.
Pundit of the Year: Ally McCoist
This was awarded via a public vote, so it’s no surprise that Coisty came out on top with Roy Keane coming in second and Nasser Hussain third. Who would be a football pundit? Whatever you say will be divisive. Some will think you’re a moron, others that you are very sensible indeed and this has only got worse in the social media era with algorithms only rewarding love or hate and ignoring nuance or moderation.
But Coisty has somehow managed to appeal to almost everyone and attracts little or no hate. Whether he’s working with Jon Champion, Clive Tyldesley or anyone else, he always manages to elevate the broadcast. There is a good-natured boyish enthusiasm about him that is infectious and a love of football that is irrepressible. You can hear him smiling. That’s odd but brilliant, isn’t it? And it is all conducted with that wonderfully distinctive North Lanarkshire accent.
Best television show: Football Focus
When Alex Scott took over presenting one of the UK’s broadcast institutions, there was a predictable minority who were up in arms about it. No-one should have to tolerate the abuse that she has to put up with, and yet she goes from strength to strength in the industry. She puts some fizz and fun into Football Focus. It has always been an aperitif to whet the appetite for Saturday afternoon’s games, it now feels more like a cocktail than a cup of tea. And that’s a very good thing indeed.
Ones to watch on air: Pien Meulensteen
She had a very good World Cup on 5Live and BBC TV and just this month became the first woman to call a live Premier League game on Sky Sports. Amazing that it took until 2023 for that to happen!
Broadcast event coverage of 2022: ITV Sport World Cup
I’d have given this to the third-placed BBC Sport coverage of the Women’s Euros and was disappointed not to see the excellent Vicki Sparks get a nod for her work but ITV had a good World Cup, a great presenter in Laura Woods and in Coisty and Clive, the best TV commentary duo.
Columnist of the Year: Jonathan Liew (The Guardian)
He’s just so good, isn’t he? The gold standard that we all aspire to.
Football journalist of the Year: Henry Winter (The Times)
I sometimes wonder how Henry has kept his enthusiasm for football on such a rolling boil for so long. Now approaching veteran status, he’s the bridge between the old school, hip flask and fag ash reporter of yore, and the clean-living social media-aware young bucks. Must have a contact book thick enough to choke a donkey.
We are incredibly well-served by football broadcasters and writers. After being across it for over 50 years, I can say with some certainty that it has never been better and has certainly never been so wide and deep in its quality. Yes, you have to pick your way through the daily tidal wave of media, especially online, to find the good stuff and yes there is a lot of witless page-filling, I should know. But the good stuff is really bloody good and just occasionally we should take a moment to celebrate that fact.
You can see all the winners in all categories here.
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