Belfast Telegraph

Down Memory Lane: Tony McCoy’s win brought back memories of other great nights

By Malcolm Brodie

Now there are three and as Tony McCoy, Grand National winner and racing legend stepped up to the platform to collect the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, there were flashbacks in the memory of two nights from yesteryear.

Northern Ireland-based stars Mary Peters and Barry McGuigan have also stood on that same rostrum.

Mary, our Golden Girl, received it in 1972 and McGuigan, whose appeal and fighting skills cut through all barriers and whose surge towards the world featherweight championship was unstoppable, won it justifiably on merit.

As the TV cameras panned over the rows upon rows of seats on Sunday night – accommodating 12,000 spectators — I felt, however, there was a major difference. Gone now was the intimacy so often associated with one of sport’s most prestigious accolades.

In the Peters and McGuigan eras everything was staged in the Shepherd’s Bush theatre and then later at TV Centre. Now it is apparently policy to stage it at various points in the United Kingdom and invite the public.

For the 1972 ceremony, a few months after Mary had won gold at the Munich Olympics, I travelled with her to London. The grapevine had indicated she would be the winner, although the result is a closely kept secret. There were rumours Richard Meade, who had performed so brilliantly in the equestrian events at the Olympics, was in the frame.

I casually mentioned to her as we sampled the British Airways culinary delights, had she prepared an acceptance speech if she won. “Not at all — we’ll cross that bridge if it happens,” she replied.

Let her pick up the story as told in her autobiography: “Princess Anne, winner in the previous year for her riding in the Badminton three-day event, made the presentation.

“I was a little surprised how nervous she seemed when coming onto the stage to present it and it was partly because of this I made the remark which I have been trying to live down ever since: ‘Hasn’t she kept it clean?’ It seemed to lift the tension just a little and as soon as the live show, watched by millions, was over we chatted away like old friends.

“I realised then how entitled she is to feel somewhat apprehensive every time she speaks off the cuff in public. It doesn’t matter what I say, I’m responsible only to myself. But every word she utters is noted down and analysed for a double meaning.”

Mary was joined on the stage by Henry Cooper, a boxer for whom she has the utmost respect. “Good evening, Yer ‘Ighness,” said Henry, who was brought up in the East End. “I’ve just ‘ad me car stolen.” Happily our ‘Enry got his gleaming new Mercedes back undamaged but not before Princess Anne expressed her sympathy and recalled her own bad moment in motoring – stopped for speeding on a motorway. It was a wonderful occasion and a happy party afterwards with lavish hospitality amidst a who’s who of world sport.

Some time later I was a guest on Mary P’s This Is Your Life programme. She was invited for a meeting with the guru of women’s athletics, Maria Hartman, at her office. Who arrives but Eamonn Andrews with his red book.

She was shocked, a little disappointed. Her brother John had only spoken on film from his home in Sydney.

Then at the end of the programme she heard his voice coming from another part of the set. It was the first time she had met him for 12 years.

McGuigan, from Clones, who captured boxing headlines with his victory over Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road, the QPR football ground, was another merited winner in 1985.

The only problem was many people called him McGeegan instead of McGuigan! It didn’t worry Barry who was then a multi-million dollar property.

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