YORKSHIRE and England cricket legend Brian Close led the tributes at this year’s Leeds Sports Awards, admitting that even at the age of 81 the celebrations made him appreciate sporting talents that he didn’t know existed.
Rawdon-born Close, the youngest player to represent England, was visibly moved to pick up a Lifetime Achiever Award at Thursday night’s impressive occasion, held at the glitzy Centenary Pavilion at Elland Road.
Compared to his incredible cricketing exploits, a Leeds Sports Awards might be considered small fry, but not to Close who admits that he was in awe of the evening’s other achievers who picked up awards.
“I’d just like to say what an amazing evening it was to acknowledge all the talents and efforts of these hugely-talented sportsmen and sports ladies,” said Close.
“It was a wonderful evening and I enjoyed it. it made me aware of things that have happened that I didn’t even know about.”
Close was probably fully aware of the 2011 achievements of the Leeds-based Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan, who dominated the sportsman of the year category.
World champion Alistair won the award with younger brother and current world number two Jonathan highly commended alongside rapidly-improving Leeds race walker Brendan Boyce.
scooping the sportswoman of the year accolade was squirt-boat kayaker Claire O’Hara – a world champion in her own unusual discipline – with European champion boxer Nicola Adams highly commended alongside another kayaking star, Ellie Bates.
All-conquering Super League and World club champions Leeds Rhinos scooped the professional team of the year accolade with the amazing City of Leeds diving team unsurprisingly taking the senior achievers’ version.
Elsewhere, world number one squash player James Willstrop was named professional player of the year.
triathlon was responsible for producing the evening’s professional performance coaches of the year in Malcolm Brown and Jack Maitland – and their proteges, the Brownlee brothers, admitted that they were both proud of their awards and wouldn’t have missed the evening for the world.
“Local recognition is always fantastic,” said Alistair.
“It’s nice to be in your own area and to come to the event and see loads and loads of people who you know – athletes, coaches, teachers, whatever.
“Triathlon is only a small sport and it’s nice to get recognised in such a homely environment.
“There’s a massive amount of passion for the area from the both of us and I think it goes a lot further than that because we both attribute our success to the area that we live in.”
Speaking once again about coming second to his older brother, Jonathan laughed: “I have got used to getting beaten by him. But Alistair was world champion and I was second to him so he deserves it more than me.
“But it’s nice to go to an awards night where there are different sports and there’s some great athletes in Leeds.
“A lot of people in the city have done really well and to be compared to them is great.”
The event’s headline sponsor was Leeds City College whose principal, Peter Roberts, said: “We were delighted to be the headline sponsor of this year’s Leeds Sports Awards; the evening was a great success in showcasing the city’s and individuals’ achievements in many different sporting fields.
“As a college, we recognise the importance that sport brings to the lives of individuals and it was an honour to see some of our students among the night’s winners.”
With nearly 400 present as part of the event’s biggest turnout ever there is no doubt it was a roaring success with the evening also used to announce details of a major three-week sporting festival to take place in the city this summer called “Leeds Loves Sport”.
The festival, taking place from June 18 to July 9, will celebrate sport in the city through a series of events including the England v West Indies one day cricket international at Headingley Carnegie, an Olympic torch relay as the 2012 London Games draws ever closer and football’s Euro 2012, screened on both the big screen in Millennium Square and at Headingley Carnegie.
Team of the year Leeds Rhinos will form part of the festival when they entertain Castleford Tigers on June 24 and coach Brian McDermott, honoured to pick up his side’s award, says the city’s sporting passion cannot be questioned.
Now the Rhinos coach says the city needs one final ingredient – their football team back where they belong in the Premiership.
“Leeds is a great city and a great sporting city,” said McDermott.
“We’re all right behind Leeds and right behind Leeds United and we hope they can get back into the Premiership.
“If we can just fly the flag until they do that, then we are more than happy to do so.”
Leeds Sports Awards roll of honour
Sportsman of the Year – Alistair Brownlee; Highly Commended – Jonathan Brownlee, Brendan Boyce.
Sportswoman of the Year – Claire O’Hara; Highly Commended –- Nicola Adams, Ellie Bates.
Professional Club/Team of the Year – Leeds Rhinos.
Professional Player of the Year – James Willstrop.
Professional Performance Coach of the Year – Malcolm Brown and Jack Maitland; Highly Commended – Adrian Hinchliffe and Edwin Jongejans, Dr Andi Drake.
Professional Participation Coach of the Year – Sandra Rider; Highly Commended – Jane Townsend, Paul Moseley.
Leeds and York Partnership Trust Disability Performer of the Year – Hannah Cockroft; Highly Commended– Claire Cashmore.
Club/Team of the Year – City of Leeds men’s and women’s diving team; Highly Commended – Leeds City Athletics Club’s senior men’s endurance squad and Leeds Aikido Club’s five-man Randori team.
Leeds Trinity Award for Student Sport – John Agar; Highly Commended – Dean Bettle, Oliver Hylands.
Leeds City College Sports Personality of the Year – Tom Dugdale.
Young Sportswoman of the Year – Chloe Hurd; Highly Commended – Ashpal Bhogal.
Young Sportsman of the Year – Jack Laugher; Highly Commended – Gordon Benson, Jamie Higgins.
Young Disability Performer of the Year – Matthew Hickling; Highly Commended – Danielle Bailey, Josh Gardner.
Young Team/Club of the Year – North Leeds Cricket Club under-17s; Highly Commended – Temple Moor School, Rosie Barrington and Jessica Ranson.
Breeze Active Junior Sportsperson of the Year – Jacob Fincham-Dukes; Highly Commended –- Melissa Knapton.
Sports Volunteer of the Year – Madeleine Hegarty, Michael Rossiter, Ishmeal Mills, David Robinson.
Outstanding Service to Sport – David Geldart, Leonard Beatty, John Reynolds, Doreen Thompson.
Lifetime Achiever – Brian Close.