NOT being an expert on women’s golf (or much else), I didn’t know anything about Catriona Matthew until last night. But that’s the magic of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award nominations list – possibly the only one put together with the help of both Zoo Magazine and the Yorkshire Post.
Matthew, it turns out, isn’t among the 10 finalists from which 2009’s Sports Personality will be chosen by viewers later this month. But she was nominated by three of the 26 newspapers and magazines asked by the BBC to put forward a list of contenders.
Those three newspapers were all Scottish – the Scotsman, the Daily Record and Scotland on Sunday. And Matthew is from Edinburgh. But I think, given the rather eventful year Matthew has had, she’s entitled to a little local bias.
In the space of 11 weeks over the summer, Matthew gave birth to her second daughter, was forced to run for her life from a burning hotel in Switzerland and became the first Scot to win a women’s golf major. I don’t know about you, but it’s more than I did over the summer.
It’s an extraordinary story. In July, two months after she had become a mum for the second time, Matthew and her husband Graeme – who doubles as her caddy – were staying at a Swiss hotel while she competed at the Evian Masters, her first competition since giving birth. During the night, there was a fire, and the couple had to dash from the building. (Luckily, they had left their children back in Scotland.)
Graeme burned his feet during the escape and was unable to caddy for his wife for two days. With most of their possessions at the hotel destroyed, Catriona had to borrow some clothes from American golfer Cristie Kerr while she completed the competition.
A couple of weeks later, Catriona made history by winning the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Lytham.
The story passed me by at the time, as I suspect it did many sports fans. Every year, the Sports Personality award does a remarkable job of making me realise just how little I know about sport.
Matthew was never likely to make the BBC’s final 10, though, purely because her sporting achievement came in a low-profile event.
Now it’s obviously wrong to give the Sports Personality award to someone purely on the basis that they’re famous – otherwise the BBC would be handing it to Jedward this year. But the fact is this: You can be world champion in your chosen sport, but if most people haven’t heard of you, then you can forget a nomination.
And that’s the answer to those people looking at the BBC’s final shortlist and posting questions on message boards along the lines of: “Why isn’t Bobby Nobbins on the list this year? He’s the world champion at Shove Ha’Penny – and that’s one of the biggest participation sports in the world! Disgrace!”
Then again, we could all sit down and try to pick a top 10 for this year’s award, and while there would be some overlap, we’d still come up with a load of different lists.
And that’s the whole point of the BBC asking such a wide range of publications to nominate 10 people for the award: The various biases will cancel each other out, and leave a final shortlist that pretty well reflects the sporting year.
Inevitably, the 26 newspapers and magazines threw up a few leftfield choices between them. London’s Evening Standard had John Terry in their 10, the Daily Record put Darren Fletcher in, while Zoo gave Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield a vote.
None of that trio was ever likely to make the final shortlist, though, and the main topic of debate has concerned those who missed the cut.
I’ve seen good cases made for the inclusion of triathlon world champions Chrissie Wellington and Alistair Brownlee. And Bradley Wiggins can certainly count himself unlucky to have missed out on the top 10, given that he finished fourth in the Tour de France – 127 places ahead of Mark Cavendish, who HAS been nominated after winning six stages of the race, a record for a British rider.
Overall, though, it’s a good-quality top 10. OK, Ryan Giggs does appear to be on there for reasons of longevity rather than recent achievement, but he is having a great season at Manchester United, and has been a key part of a very successful football team for nearly 20 years, which is extraordinary.
I don’t think Giggs will make the top three. For me, it’s between Jenson Button, Jessica Ennis and David Haye.
Button has an advantage in that his world title win was higher-profile than Ennis’ and seen by more TV viewers in this country than Haye’s. On the other hand, he did rather stumble to the Formula One title after a great start.
If Haye’s heavyweight world title triumph over Nikolai Valuev had been shown live on terrestrial TV, rather than Sky pay-per-view, I think he might have finished ahead of Button. As it is, I see him finishing third.
It’s Ennis who would get my vote. She fought back from a fractured ankle – which kept her out of last year’s Olympics – to win heptathlon gold at the World Championships in Berlin.
And what’s more, she’s from Sheffield – where the BBC awards ceremony is being held this month. Call me a sentimental old sod, but I’d like to see a home victory this year.