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

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I look forward to tweeting-up with everyone (Come on Vale…)

The Twitter home page of yours truly.

The Twitter home page of yours truly.

The Leopard Hotel in Burslem has played host to some big names during its long history.

A couple of years ago none other than the crown prince of pop music himself, Robert Williams esquire, turned up with his entourage to engage in a night of ghost-hunting at the famous hostelry.

It is not known whether our Rob communed with the spirits of guests who once frequented the ‘Savoy of the Midlands’ as The Leopard was known.

However, he certainly followed in the footsteps of some illustrious names that night.

Names like Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley who met in the Burslem hotel 248 years ago next month, to be precise, to discuss the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Yes, some of the great pioneers of the industrial revolution once supped at The Leopard and tonight their modern day equivalents will be doing just the same. Sort of.

The Sentinel’s digital staff – the people in charge of our online operation – have organised ‘a tweet-up’ this evening.

OK. I’ll admit I had to look up what it meant. Basically, a ‘tweet-up’ is a face-to-face gathering of people who use Twitter.

In this instance, it’s a chance for users of the social network to meet up with their favourite/most annoying Sentinel journalists and, crucially, other influential Twitter users from our neck of the woods.

I can’t promise that the conversations will be as deep and meaningful as the one had by Wedgwood and Brindley in March 1765 but we’ll give it a go.

Tonight’s meeting of ‘tweeps’ (check me out with the lingo) underlines just how much The Sentinel has changed since I first arrived at Etruria 15 years ago.

Back then email was in its infancy, this newspaper didn’t have its own website and there was no such thing as Twitter or Facebook.

Nowadays our ‘digital audience’ (people who visit The Sentinel’s website) is more than 513,000 a month and this figure is continuing to grow at a rapid pace.

The immediacy of the internet trumps newspapers, television and even radio reporting and it’s something that even Luddites like me have had to embrace.

Indeed, most journalists would be worried if it weren’t for the fact that so much of what’s written on the web is nonsense and, thankfully, people still rely on trusted brands for their information.

Sentinel newspaper. Sentinel website. It’s all still The Sentinel, I guess.

What’s interesting to me is the kind of people from our patch who use Twitter to communicate with their friends/colleagues/contacts/fans and the wider world.

You’d be suprised at who’s tweeting and perhaps, more so, by who isn’t.

Stoke City and Port Vale players, darts maestros Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis, England cricketer Danielle Wyatt, mobile phones billionaire John Caudwell, the Chief Constable of Staffordshire, Vale chairman Paul Wildes, stage star Jonny Wilkes, your MPs, local councillors, and the chief executives of some major employers locally, to name but a few, are all at it.

What’s more, some of them even write their own tweets. (You can usually tell by the spelling mistakes).

Tonight a fair few of them will be meeting up at The Leopard.

In a pub that’s more than 250 years old a bunch of people, some of whom have only ever met ‘virtually’, will be brought together by the wonders of modern technology and the promise of a pint.

Yours truly (@MartinTideswell) is even being forced to miss watching Vale beating Wimbledon just up the road in order to be there.

Hacked-off because there’s too much Stoke City and not enough Port Vale in the paper? Or vice-versa? Our Sports Editor Keith Wales (@SentinelSportEd) will be having his ear bent about that old chestnut.

Want to talk campaigns or have an issue with one of our stories? The Sentinel’s Editor-in-Chief
(@MikeSassi) will be explaining his thinking.

Have a question about The Sentinel’s Business Awards? Our Business Editor (@annking) can probably help.

Fancy venting your spleen about the city council’s plan to relocate its civic HQ from Stoke to Hanley? Our local government reporter Alex Campbell (@CouncilReporter) will be only too happy to listen.

Then there’s our star turn – my columnist colleague and ascerbic TV critic John Woodhouse
(@jwoody67), who will be doing a Twitter-related stand up routine. I kid you not. (He’s quite good, actually).

I just have one request: If you’re one of the Twitter users who’s going along to The Leopard tonight, go easy on my colleagues, won’t you?

Most of them don’t normally leave the safety of The Sentinel’s bunker to meet their followers/readers in person.

In fact, it might be better at the start if you limit your conversations to 140 characters until they all get the hang of this talking lark.

Mine’s a Diet Pepsi and a bag of dry roasted peanuts, by the way. Cheers.

*To sign up for tonight’s tweet-up email: chris.hogg@thesentinel.co.uk or david.elks@thesentinel.co.uk

*A video of tonight’s tweet-up will be posted on The Sentinel’s website at 9am tomorrow.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

The Leopard in Burslem.

The Leopard in Burslem.

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…