Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the box: It's time for SPOTY to sink or swim

By Billy Weir

In an act of childish churlishness and green-tinted glasses, I was in half a mind just to leave this space blank and dedicate it to the BBC's tribute to a glorious sporting year for Northern Ireland competitors.

Then I remembered I get paid by the word, Christmas is coming and I hail from Ballymena, so a gigantic hello to the Sports Personality of the Year (which, much as I despise myself for doing so and the loss of cash, will now be referred to as SPOTY).

We started big in Birmingham, a rousing rendition of Feeling Good by Laura Mvula, before the first of what was to be a familiar theme throughout the night - really famous people appearing via video link.

Usain Bolt (you would almost think he had a film to promote) came on to tell us to have a good night in the company of Gabby Logan, Clare Balding and "the main man, Mr Gary Lineker" and it was just as well he told us who they were as at first glance it appeared to be a woman dressed as a church window, Eddie Izzard and plain man Gary Lineker (below with Logan).

As we kicked off he was still basking in Bolt's eulogy, Balding couldn't have been more excited had someone handed her a lifetime subscription to Bunty and Logan put on that big serious voice she uses but, lest we forget, she has inflicted Splash! and Flockstars upon us, so gravitas grates a tad.

And confusion abounded later on when Eddie Izzard did appear, or was it Clare in a different outfit? We may never know.

We started off, mainly because it was one of the few things the Beeb hasn't tossed aside yet, with the Olympics and we were told that Team GB had won 67 medals in Rio and most of them seemed to have been nominated for SPOTY.

First up was one of the ones who wasn't going to win, swimmer Adam Peaty, a thoroughly nice chap, jolly fast in the pool but he was out of his depth when it came to swimming royalty.

The Duke of Cambridge was flanked by two familiar swimming faces who had nothing to do with British sport and you wondered why Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe were there. I'm guessing something was afoot.

But with so much focus on swimming and pools I raced upstairs like a scalded David Wilkie to dig out the festive Speedos I had been keeping for a special occasion, but a word of warning from the wise, be careful where you position the holly.

With Peaty and Nicola Adams out of the way, we cut to a furtive looking Logan in the wings, with the appearance of a woman who had been told that an angry archdeacon was on his way to get his window back, but we were then distracted by her distraction, as nominee No.3 Max Whitlock was perched on parallel bars.

His wee film out of the way, he came bouncing and somersaulting across the stage and we all thanked our lucky stars that Fatima Whitbread hadn't brought her sporting prowess to the stage years ago.

Masters winner Danny Willett was quickly dealt with, mainly as the 'pictures from Sky' caption was going to wear out, and joined by triathlete Alistair Brownlee for the separate Yorkshire SPOTY, the latter seemingly nominated for helping his staggering younger brother home, and thankfully we didn't pan back to HRH.

The first husband and wife to be nominated, Jason and Laura Kenny, featured in a cringeworthy piece described by Balding as a "very funny film" and described by everyone else as 'tell me when it's over' with Mrs Kenny revealing the secret of her success in that "I just ride round in circles and I love what I do".

World snooker champion Mark Selby (no, not Ronnie O'Sullivan as you thought) got an unusually sizeable chunk, mainly because the Beeb have pictures and he's called the Jester from Leicester and allow Leicester's main man to introduce the main men from Leicester.

"It's no joke when it comes to the serious business of football and the Premier League," said Lineker as we remembered him in his pants on Match of the Day because Leicester won the title.

They won another one, Team of the Year, and Coach of the Year for Claudio Ranieri but there was to be nothing for Jamie Vardy later before a clip of Chris Froome winning the Tour de France (pictures from Eurosport) cursing his decision not to race in the Tour of Brazil which may have got him a nomination.

The video links then kicked in again, Mo Farah from Dubai before we switched to Andy Murray who was described as "something else" when, in fact, he was somewhere else, in Miami.

Showjumper Nick Skelton came on to steal the show as oldest nominee, while Gareth Bale couldn't even be bothered to send a video (pictures from nobody), and then the Overseas Award. Ah, it must be Phelps, it makes sense now. Or Usain at least. Or Mo if you're a Daily Mail reader. Nope, it was US gymnast Simone Biles, who was there in person. No, only joking, she was on video (pictures from ABC).

Then drama. "Fearless, formidable, phenomenal," said Balding. Would the organisers have caught themselves on and added Carl Frampton to the line-up? Nope, it was Phelps' turn, joined by HRH and the Thorpedo and he was given a rousing reception, although, no-one took up his offer of a lift home.

And then the main event, Skelton jumped into third and we all wondered how so many horses could have dialled in, Brownlee was second as Yorkshire's phone network melted and surprise, surprise, Miami slice Murray won for a third time.

Big Lennox Lewis presented him with the trophy, suitably beside a pool as bemused holidaymakers looked on wondering just what was in the showy cocktail the pasty Scottishman had just ordered, but then the shock of the night, and often frowned upon, a P by the pool.

Yes, some personality shown by the SPOTY who said: "I have a bone to pick with my wife as she told me she voted for Nick Skelton."

And with that it was all over, Gary, in his pants, was bound for Miami and a pool party, but just don't expect any pictures. Oh, and if you're from Northern Ireland, your name's not on the list, you're not coming in.

The good, the bad and the ugly

The good: It must be Christmas, there are hordes of drunken Santas and elves roaming the streets of London as the World Darts Championships are under way. Phil Taylor made short work of his first round opponent, David Platt, but is expecting tougher times ahead with a match next against Rita Fairclough.

The bad: Pointless Celebrities got in on the SPOTY bandwagon with a special episode but it was to be a brief appearance for Greg Rusedski. It was no great shock that he lost in the first round, the real surprise was that he won SPOTY in 1997, edging out Tim Henman. Must have been a stellar year, the mind boggles as to who was third, some wee lad playing kerbsie?

The ugly: No festive column would be complete without a word for the mercurial Mark Sidebottom on Final Score who left us in no doubt as to what he wants from Santa. “Now then, let’s move on to, excuse me (nervous pause), Glenavon to reach the League Cup final on Tuesday night. You’ll detect I’ve lost my autocue.” At least he wasn’t wearing a zany Yuletide jumper, otherwise he’d have looked silly.

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