Inspiring partnership celebrates city’s rich sporting heritage

Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Mike Sassi at the Sports Awards 2012.

Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Mike Sassi at the Sports Awards 2012.

It’s another big week for our city, following the hugely popular visit of HRH Prince Charles to the Mother Town a few days ago.

On Thursday evening an array of stars from the world of sport will turn out at the Kings Hall in Stoke to pay homage to individuals who are perhaps less well-known but nonetheless equally deserving of praise.

The guest of honour will be Sally Gunnell OBE – our compere for the 38th year of the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality Awards.

The gold medal-winning Olympian follows in the footsteps of sporting luminaries such as Lord Sebastian Coe, James Cracknell OBE, Dave Moorcroft OBE and Jonathan Edwards CBE who have all graced the event in recent years.

Joining Sally will be a veritable who’s who of home-grown sporting legends who each year give up their time to make the event more memorable for those in attendance.

These include World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks OBE, Paralympic equestrian hero Lee Pearson OBE, Olympic gold medal-winning hockey player Imran Sherwani, former England wicket keeper Bob Taylor MBE, current England cricket star Danielle Wyatt and football pundit Mark Bright, to name but a few.

They’ll be rubbing shoulders on the red carpet with Potteries football royalty like John Rudge and Micky Adams.

The list goes on…

It really is a night to reflect on Stoke-on-Trent’s rich sporting history and our celebrity guests add a touch of glamour to what is a very prestigious occasion.

We’ll be handing out the Sir Stanley Matthews Potteries Footballer of the Year Awards to a Stoke City and Port Vale player and inducting two more famous faces into the Civic Sporting Hall of Fame.

But the real focus on Thursday’s event is on the achievements, endeavour and selflessness of individuals and teams who may never hit the big time or make national headlines.

That said, their contribution to sport in our patch is exceptional and well worth celebrating.

Indeed, this is why in 1975 councillor Tom Brennan came up with the idea of a civic event, championed by The Sentinel, to pay homage to the unsung heroes and heroines of local sport.

The City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards has come along way since those early days when a few dozen people attended a buffet and prize giving.

It’s now a black tie event for more than 300 guests with video tributes to all shortlisted nominees which you’ll be able to view on The Sentinel’s website on Friday morning.

But the ethos of the awards remains the same: To honour the local footballers, cricketers, rugby players, martial artists, cyclists, coaches, officials and competitors across a range of sports and sporting disciplines.

They make all the wet Sunday mornings, the endless training sessions, the fund-raising and administrative nightmares worthwhile.

Most of those who we will be honouring on Thursday will not be household names but, through their efforts, they touch the lives of thousands of people in the Potteries.

Their walk on to the freshly-painted stage, accompanied by music and the warm applause of a packed Kings Hall to receive their trophy from a celebrity and have their photograph taken, may only take a few minutes.

But it will hopefully create a memory that will last a lifetime and we will chronicle it for them.

I think there must, sadly, be a perception among some city councillors that journalists at The Sentinel spend all their time thinking up negative stories about them and the local authority.

This is presumably one of the reasons why communications gurus come and go with such regularity and there seems to be a constant appetite for reviewing the council’s press and PR strategies.

However, the truth is somewhat different to the perception of some elected members.

The vast majority of council-related stories carried by this newspaper are positive or neutral and that’s a fact.

What’s more, Thursday night proves that our partnership activities with the authority are a real success – genuinely aspirational and important events for the city as a whole.

Along with The Sentinel Business Awards, the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality is a key event in the city’s calendar with a long and distinguished history.

Long may it continue to reward and inspire.

*Follow @SentinelStaffs on Twitter for updates on Thursday night as the winners are announced. Full coverage of the event in Friday’s Sentinel and online.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

In all honesty, this press regulation bun-fight has nothing to do with regional newspapers

The Sun's excellent front page yesterday.

The Sun’s excellent front page yesterday.

In the wake of yesterday’s historic agreement on press regulation we now have the entirely predictable and unseemly spectacle of the main protagonists doing their very best to claim victory and rewrite history.

Despite protestations to the contrary, it’s plain for all to see that, as per usual, leaders of all three political parties were more interested in point-scoring and saving face than genuinely achieving an accord which satisfied both the public clamour for change while safeguarding one of the pillars of our democracy.

Frankly, I’m very cynical about the Leveson Inquiry and rather despondent about the subsequent witch hunt.

This is not because I don’t think the inquiry was warranted. Neither am I cynical because I would try to defend any of the nefarious activities of certain journalists working for certain media organisations.

I’m cynical because I see how MPs, scarred and seething in the wake of the expenses scandal, were champing at the bit to bash Fleet Street.

I’m cynical because the rich and famous with axes to grind turned the inquiry into a cause célèbre and rather hijacked the very legitimate aims and concerns of the Hacked Off campaigners.

I’m cynical because, if anything, the real danger to people’s privacy and the enemy of good journalism – the internet and social media – was beyond Lord Justice Leveson’s remit, despite it becoming more relevant (and intrusive) by the day.

I’m cynical because many broadcast journalists who should know better are taking the moral high ground and reacting as though their counterparts in the print media have leprosy.

I’m cynical because the hacking of telephones by a minority of national newspaper journalists (exposed, of course, by other national newspaper journalists) has somehow been allowed to tar the entire industry with the same brush.

Lastly, I’m cynical because my colleagues and I in the regional press are wondering where Leveson and yesterday’s vote leaves us – the thousands of ordinary regional newspaper journalists who haven’t the faintest interest in hacking someone’s phone but may well pay a heavy price because some fools once did.

A few days ago the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) Lord Hunt visited The Sentinel.

We gave him a whirlwind tour of Stoke-on-Trent and then he met staff on a paper that’s been chronicling the history of this part of the country for 159 years.

Lord Hunt gave us an insight into his meetings with senior politicians ahead of yesterday’s all-important vote and spoke of his hopes and fears.

We expressed our concerns that the regional press seemed to have been forgotten in the almighty post-Leveson scrap but could well pay the price of misdemeanours by staff on national newspapers.

He spent a couple of hours at Sentinel HQ and during that time we did our best to accentuate the differences between ourselves as A Friend Of The Family and the red tops and broadsheets who caused this mess.

We explained that we are the only media organisation with the resources and the inclination to cover both magistrates and crown courts in North Staffordshire on a daily basis – thus playing our role in the administration of justice locally.

To that end we extolled the virtues of my colleague Dianne Gibbons, who greets me in the office each day at 7.30am with a smile before heading off to court.

Dianne has been with The Sentinel for more than 50 years.

Like her colleague Dave Blackhurst, our health reporter for more than 30 years, Dianne’s knowledge and professionalism is unparalleled and the service they both provide to our readers is vital.

We informed the Chairman of the PCC that we are the only media organisation which provides in-depth coverage of local government – attending every city council meeting and outlining in full the ramifications of things like local authority cutbacks.

We told him of our investigative work which has exposed everything from the goings-on at Port Vale under the previous board of directors to various council gaffes and concerns over the capability of doctors at our local hospital.

We showed Lord Hunt our successful campaign to save the name of the Staffordshire Regiment which attracted 17,000 signatures on a petition which was taken by veterans to 10 Downing Street.

We told him about our public events – from the ever-popular Our Heroes Community Awards and the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards (now in its 38th year) to our Class Act campaign for schools, our Young Journalist Awards scheme run in conjunction with Staffordshire University, The Sentinel Business Awards and Stoke’s Top Talent which we organise in partnership with The Regent Theatre.

We pointed out that we mark all the important occasions in our neck of the woods with souvenir supplements – from the Olympic Torch coming to our city to Stoke City’s 150th anniversary or 40 years of the Dougie Mac.

Hopefully Lord Hunt went away knowing that we echo the view of Lord Leveson himself who said: “It is clear to me that local, high-quality and trusted newspapers are good for our communities, our identity and our democracy and play an important social role.”

This is what we strive to do at The Sentinel every day – irrespective of what Hugh Grant thinks.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

Our celebs are proud of their roots

I LOVE it that so many of our personalities are proud of their roots and not only choose to live locally but do so much for Stoke-on-Trent. Yesterday I spent an hour with former Vale player, FA Cup Finalist and BBC pundit Mark Bright when he dropped in to Sentinel HQ. Brighty, along with Robbie Earle, Phil Taylor, Nick Hancock, Gordon Banks OBE, Imran Sherwani, Kim Barnett, and Lee  Pearson MBE, OBE – to name but a few – are staunch supporters of the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards (April 7) which yours truly organises.  By the same token, Wendy Turner-Webster, Anthea Turner and Jonny Wilkes are big supporters of The Sentinel and Britannia’s Our Heroes community awards. None of these stars get paid for their patronage – they just give their time because they want to support ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Celebrities sometimes get an awfully bad press but I think we’re blessed here in the Potteries with a decent, down-to-earth bunch who are all proud of their roots.

Forget London, the Olympics will be what we make of them

I was never very sporty. In fact, my only moment of glory was winning the wheelbarrow race during a school sports day when I was seven.

And, to be fair, most of the credit for that narrow victory has to go to the hands and arms of my best friend Glyn Shelley.

At secondary school I was always last pick for football – either stuck in goal where there was no running about to be done or lurking about in my favourite position of striker (AKA goal-poacher).

In my head I was Kenny Dalglish, pouncing on a through ball from Graeme Souness, turning on a sixpence and lashing the ball home.

In reality, I occasionally stuck out a leg, got lucky and claimed a soft goal from eight yards out.

Meanwhile, my classmates bemoaned my lack of effort and mobility, questioned my sense of fair play and wittered on about the off-side rule.

The truth is the fat lad with asthma just didn’t want to have to use his Ventolin inhaler more than twice in PE.

But if I was useless at football, I took sporting incompetence to even greater heights on the cross country course.

To say I dreaded this weekly chore would be an understatement.

If memory serves me correctly, our county ‘athletes’ could run the course in under 20 minutes.

I shambled round in about 45 – leaving me just enough time in the hour-long session to get changed out of and back into my school uniform.

I would, of course, comically run at the start and end of the course to give the impression that I gave a monkey’s.

My mates Richie and Rob would always walk part of the course with me, thus undermining any chance they had of finishing in a respectable time. But that’s what mates are for, isn’t it?

My PE teacher, Mr Gilson, would simply roll his eyes as I trotted back through the school gates and mutter under his breath, presumably questioning the point of waiting to record my umpteenth last place.

Amazingly, Mr Gilson is still doing his bit to nurture sporting talent in Stoke-on-Trent two decades later, but he now works as a sports coach and mentor at the hugely successful St Peter’s School in Penkhull.

However, rather than wasting his time with no-hopers like me, he is now overseeing rising stars such as teenage England cricketer Danielle Wyatt and cycling sensation Kian Emadi – one of number of Potteries prospects hoping to secure a place with Team GB.

Believe it or not, The Sentinel’s circulation area has more than its fair share of Olympic hopefuls to shout about as London 2012 approaches.

Aside from Kian, we have sprint siblings Alex and Ashlee Nelson, pole-vaulters Steven Lewis and Kate Dennison, sharp-shooter Glenn Eldershaw, rower Anna Bebington, cyclist Shanaze Reade and triple-jumper Ben Williams. And that’s just off the top of my head.

So when Lord Coe, or Seb as he likes to be called, comes to the Potteries in April as the guest of honour for the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards, my guess is he will enjoy the trip immensely.

Having the man who is heading up the UK’s Olympic plans on our turf is a fantastic endorsement for the city’s event, which has now been running for 35 years.

Like many others, I’ve been a cynic. I’ve asked just what an Olympic Games for London actually means for the rest of us.

I’ve wondered what the benefits are of an event that is costing the taxpayer countless hundreds of millions of pounds – other than helping to regenerate run-down parts of the capital.

And the conclusion I’ve come to is that it is up to us to make the most of the Olympics.

We can sit around bemoaning the fact that the event is truly London-centric and will have no tangible benefits for the rest of us. Or we can get in on the act.

Local companies can tender for contracts and also help to fund our Team GB hopefuls, who are wonderful ambassadors for the region.

They should be touring schools and inspiring future generations to chase their dreams.

Why? Because sport – and keeping fit – matters in a city saddled with a chronic obesity crisis and where too many people have low aspirations.

It’s one of the few mediums that can bring all ages together behind positive goals and genuinely inspire people to better themselves.

Although, sadly, I have to confess I can’t see the International Olympic Committee ever acknowledging the true magnificence of the wheelbarrow race…