Sports Journalist of the Year – Weekly/ Sunday Papers

Scroll down to meet the nominees for Sports Journalist of the Year, Weekly Papers

Open to sports news writers, match reporters, feature writers and columnists on daily or weekly newspapers. Entries may be from a variety of sports or one specialist area. Click on the articles to read in detail. 

The Shortlist

Fraser Watson, Western Telegraph

“My entry showcases a range of excellent work that has raised the bar for sports journalism in West Wales. From match reports to exclusive interviews and stories, analytical comments and live blogs, I have covered a wide range of sports and not ever shied away from tackling issues,” says Fraser.

“My work helped make the sport section of the Western Telegraph website the most read for any weekly newspaper website in Wales in 2019, and has also seen me shortlisted as a finalist in the Sports Journalist of the Year category at the Welsh Media Awards in March where nominations only usually extend to those working on national titles.

“In my exclusive interview with Team GB Ice Swimmer Alistair Bell –  I promote his achievements and join him for a training session. This is one of numerous examples of me visiting an individual in a minority sport and taking part myself, in order to give readers a true account of the dangers and techniques involved. The interview resulted in Alistair being contacted by several companies eager to sponsor him, which in turn allowed him to travel to Russia to swim in the World Championships.

“In another exclusive I interviewed  Tal Selley, James Merriman, and Aled Thomas, who all won the 7s Rugby World Cup with Wales in Dubai in 2009. The trio all grew up playing in Pembrokeshire and yet their achievement, and that of the team, has seldom been celebrated in the Welsh press. I took upon myself to get all three together to recall the tournament. After the interview was published, the only one each player had said they had undertaken on winning the World Cup in ten years, and it prompted a huge reaction from Pembrokeshire rugby supporters who were previously unaware of the feat.

“Another of my reflective pieces, where I recalled the old Pembrokeshire side beating Japan in 1983, had a similar effect and was one of the most read pieces on our entire website in 2019.

“An example of one of my live blogs is the 2019 Harrison-Allen Bowl cricket final. Like all my live coverage of matches, the work was done without assistance or the benefit of televised updates, and entailed watching every ball of the game for more than six hours. I always endeavour to make the live coverage accurate, opinionated, informative, and humorous to keep readers engaged.

“I believe the high quality of my work throughout 2019, and the vast range of sports and issues I have tackled and publicised, makes my entry very suitable for winning this category.”

Judges’ Comments: 

Fraser is clearly prepared to go the extra mile for his craft – including ice swimming. But he combines this with the ability to uncover stories and present them in a no-nonsense style. I liked the Q&A format of the Rugby 7s winners.

Fraser’s interview with three key players of Wales World Cup winning Sevens squad was well constructed and gave the inside story of a little regarded sporting achievement.

Jon Colman, The Cumberland News

Jon’s entry includes three articles which focus on three major individuals in Carlisle and Cumbrian football.

The first is an exclusive interview with goalkeeper Jimmy Glass, to mark the 20th anniversary of his famous goal which saved Carlisle United from relegation to non-league. As well as discussing that remarkable moment, the interview goes into personal depth, as Glass describes how he fought a gambling addiction and tried to cope with life out of the game. He also speaks for the first time about how he and his wife were unwittingly drawn into a notorious sexism controversy involving Sky Sports presenters.

The second is a tribute to the great Ivor Broadis, following his death in April at the age of 96. Given his remarkable life – World War Two service, international football stardom, journalism career – he wanted to capture the breadth of Broadis’s story and explain why his like will not be seen again in Carlisle and Cumbria.

The third is an interview with a rising star of Cumbrian and English sport; Manchester United’s Dean Henderson. On the eve of the European Under-21 Championships Jon secured an exclusive interview with the young goalkeeper, where he spoke in depth about his Cumbrian childhood, his progress in the game and his major aspirations – as well as revelations about rejecting a move back to his first club.

The judges said: 

Insightful interviews and a touching tribute coupled with an easy writing style. A master of his art, and another fine entry. Quality interviews with well chosen interviewees.

First-class writing by Jon. His pieces are easy to read and full of information. He manages to bring new elements to his interviews no matter how much you think you know about the subject.

Jon Colman is a consistently great regional reporter – always in the running for awards.

Liam Headd, Newbury Weekly News

As sports reporter at the Newbury Weekly News, Liam has helped develop the section by producing an average of nine pages every week, including everything from football to netball and hockey to table tennis. 

Liam has worked hard to develop strong relationships with the local sporting community and his entries for the Sports Journalist of the Year support this.

The first entry spotlights a new feature that he initiated in 2019 called Stable Talk. The purpose: to visit horse racing yards in the Lambourn Valley and around the area and speak to trainers and staff.

So far he has visited 16 different stables, including the yards of Andrew Balding and Nicky Henderson – two of the leading trainers within the industry.

Liam’s second entry is an exclusive interview with Worcester Warriors women’s rugby player Carys Cox after it was announced the club would be paying their players for the very first time. In a huge statement for women’s rugby, and sport in general, Cox explained how much of a benefit it was and praised the support from her rugby club. 

Liam’s final entry is an interview with Newbury darts player Luke Humphries, who is from Newbury. 

For the second successive year, Humphries made it to the last-eight of the World Darts Championships at Alexandra Palace. However, 2019 was a difficult year for him as he was forced to take a mid-season break after suffering from mental health problems. 

Judges’ Comments: 

Great mix of sports and clearly of enormous local interest. Particularly liked the variety of the subjects Liam covered, with Stable Talk a good idea as racing coverage in much the national press is shrinking.

Liam obviously works hard to wring every last story out of his patch which he clearly knows inside out. Introduced some new features and seems to strike a rapport with his interview subjects.

Versatile all rounder – from Stable Talk to darts – also a rare sports journalist including women’s sport in the awards – more please!

Mark Taylor, Cambridge Independent

“Cambridge may not have a Premier League football team or Premiership rugby team, but it is rich in a variety of different sports. It just means that more work is required to dig out the stories,” says Mark.

“When we launched the paper, given that we had a rival daily, I was aware that we needed to do something different with regards to our sports coverage.

“Gone are the days when people would wait for the paper to come out to find scores, details and reaction so the aim was to create a sport section with big reads that would not be out of date if you picked up the paper days after its publication. The aim was to provide in-depth coverage and delve deeper into stories.

“I believe that my articles are a good demonstration of off-diary reporting that goes beyond the day-to-day of matches and the win/lose/draw approach.

“My piece with Ollie Fox was about a sensitive issue that is seldom reported. I first spoke to Ollie after he had become one of the only British track winners in an athletics meeting between Oxford and Cambridge and Harvard and Yale, and he had mentioned that he was possibly going to quit the sport.

“We kept in touch and after he confirmed his decision, we arranged to meet.

“Ollie was candid on the battles he had with Crohn’s disease, and how Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) for steroid use had such a big impact on his health and athletics.

“TUEs can be a controversial issue, but not often talked about by those who legitimately need them in order to compete – we only ever tend to hear about them in a negative way.

“Ollie’s honesty allowed questions to be asked, and considered the issue of steroid use for medical needs in sport and the subsequent implications.

“The piece with Ian Darler looked at the issue of mental health, and how writing a book helped him to approach some of the difficulties he had faced.

“Ian is an upbeat character who had so many stories to tell and had helped many people, but also gone through a difficult period. I wanted the piece to fairly reflect Ian’s personality, his 40 years as groundsman at Cambridge United but at the same time talk about the obstacles he has overcome.

James Horwill’s pedigree as a former captain of Australia’s rugby union team was there for all to see when he came to study at Cambridge University.

“What I wanted to do with the feature though was look at the transition out of professional sport, rather than reflect on his time in it.

“It was important to look at that adjustment going back into the amateur game and what it meant to be studying again.”

Judges’ Comments: 

Fascinating stories, well researched, well interviewed and well written.

Great eye for the less glamorous side of sport – trials & traumas of being an athlete, the legitimate use of drugs (TUEs) & what happens when a career is over.

Two outstanding interviews with James Horwill and Ollie Fox. Howill’s transition to life beyond being a professional sportsman was brilliantly explained and clearly Mark asked the right questions to elicit Howill’s illuminating answers. Similarly, Fox’s moral and ethical dilemma is interpreted very well and gives a fascinating insight into a predicament few athletes have to confront.

Paul Davis, Rotherham Advertiser

“I cover Rotherham United for the Rotherham Advertiser and the pieces I have entered demonstrate my understanding of my subject and how I have developed relationships that allow me to give readers behind-the-scenes details that other journalists can’t acquire,” writes Paul.

“It takes a long time to be afforded the kind of access and trust that I enjoy in the Millers camp. I’m not going to pretend it’s agenda-setting stuff but I like to think the writing isn’t bad! I don’t miss anything on the Rotherham beat and am the ‘go to’ reporter for Millers fans. 

“My Twitter following is nearly 6,000, which isn’t bad when home support averages around 8,000 per game. 

“My features, I hope, are well constructed and have a lightness of touch and use of language that makes them stand out. I feel I’m being big-headed now, so I’ll leave it there.”

The judges said:

Excellent knowledge of and contacts with his local club. His interviews were lifted by a light writing style and some excellent extras – a man who knows his stuff.

Really enjoyable reads – funny, engaging, quirky writing style which would draw in even the most disinterested reader.

Paul Ferguson, Sunday Life

“After months of investigation, I uncovered and exposed gross negligence and a major cover-up within the governing body of Northern Ireland football, the Irish FA, which affected all levels of football in Northern Ireland,” writes Paul.

“Despite initial denials and an attempt to blame Sport NI, the government organisation who hand out public money grants, I exclusively revealed how the Irish FA, through incompetence, missed out on a huge £1 million for football clubs in Northern Ireland.

“From grass-roots and schools, to senior clubs, everyone involved in football in Northern Ireland was handicapped by the IFA’s failure to carry out their duties.

“It was a fair, balanced and hard hitting expose, backed up with vital facts, information and relevant quotes from the parties involved, including the IFA admitting to their error and Sport NI insisting that the IFA were to blame. It sent shock waves throughout Northern Ireland football.

“The revelations brought an immediate internal investigation by the IFA board, into the conduct of Chief Executive Patrick Nelson, which I exclusively reported. The IFA board, the decision makers in Northern Ireland football, were furious at being denied the truth about the lack of funding and subsequent cover-up.

“In the subsequent weeks that followed and after a thorough review, my articles brought about transformation into how the funding processes for the IFA function. 

“The Aaron Hughes piece is an insightful, fascinating and entertaining account of a player I’d built a strong relationship with over 20 years and I gave the readers a personal and revealing account. While fellow journalists had to contend with quotes pieces, I offered a different perspective on the stereotype of a professional footballer and why Aaron, a record breaker and one of football’s longest serving players, was so respected by his peers, coaches and fans.

Judges Comments: 

Exposing a £1m own goal by the Irish FA and then following up the attempted cover up is sports reporting at its best. Also showed an easy writing style in the Aaron Hughes interview – which he travelled a long way to get. 

Excellent exclusive which was clearly a result of first-class contacts and an appetite to dig far beyond the accepted brush-off. Paul is obviously a reporter who knows his beat and his job very well.